in Saint-Denis, help for precarious mothers

“Since confinement it’s hard. The RSA falls, it goes towards the rent, suddenly there is nothing left.” So Kamelia Mechouet, 30 years old and soon to have three mouths to feed, had to knock on the door of the MaMaMa association, in Saint-Denis, specializing in food aid for infants.

“Diapers, milk, clothes, baby food, it’s too good,” shyly slips the young woman, whose round belly portends the imminent arrival of a third child. “It was not planned, we do with …”.

Like many beneficiaries, she is one of those invisible people, formerly on the crest of precariousness and who have fallen into extreme poverty because of the health crisis. “The main thing” is to be “safe, we are not in the street”, she tries to be positive.

MaMaMa was born last spring in Seine-Saint-Denis, the poorest department in France, during the first confinement.

“We quickly understood that infant nutrition was a blind spot in emergency food aid, because it implies different logistics, because it is necessary to make almost tailor-made, depending on the age of the children”, explains fervently Magali Bragard, one of the four co-founders of this “small association created by women from the suburbs”.

Thanks to solidarity, “3,500 packages” have been delivered since its creation, she figures, as well as “thousands of packages of diapers”, sanitary napkins and other products for mothers or clothing.

A reflection of social inequalities, child malnutrition causes physical damage such as deficiencies or stunted growth, sometimes psychological consequences, recalls Unicef.

In a warehouse of around 1,000 m2, little hands are busy arranging the shelves overflowing with toys, shoes and clothes. Pallets of diapers and milk cartons – the most popular products because they are essential and expensive – are also waiting to be distributed.

– A little warmth –

Access to stocks, resulting from donations, is reserved for volunteers. The beneficiaries, often single mothers, are welcomed in another part of the site.

Despite the grayness of the walls, their welcome is warm because it is personalized, per half-hour slot. A glass of water and the conversation begins on one of the sofas arranged around a table with a book of the adventures of the “Little Brown Bear”. Here, giving is also offering stories to children and listening time to their parents.

“There are still children who have little or nothing at all,” recalls Emmanuelle Magniez, 39, a volunteer focused on folding bodysuits, polo shirts and sweaters. A former business manager, she comes from Neuilly-sur-Seine to give of her time and “feel useful” during the crisis.

“I am looking for diapers, milk for my daughter, because with confinement it is difficult for us”, explains Nassima Salmi, 34, whose husband has lost his odd jobs due to the coronavirus epidemic.

She contacted MaMaMa via a form filled out on the association’s website, then a volunteer called her to refine her needs. Sometimes the alert is given by social assistance or a maternal and child protection unit (PMI).

During the first confinement, “mothers were no longer able to buy milk, so they cooked rice and gave their babies the cooking water so that they would stop crying”, laments Magali Bragard.

Since the announcement of the reconfinement a fortnight ago, his association is again drowned in requests.

“It helps us, a lot even”, rejoices Kamelia Mechouet, who leaves with a stroller, certainly more youthful, but who will undoubtedly “help out”.

MaMaMa hopes to continue its activities in the premises made available by the Plaine commune intermunicipal association “until December 1”. With the stated objective of perpetuating a certain state of mind in emergency aid: “to offer something more human and closer to the person”.

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