BEIRUT -- "Yes, we are poor," says Jamal Takkoush, who lives in Beirut's Karantina area and has three grandchildren to feed, summing up her situation.
"My fridge is empty, just like my pantry," she told Al-Mashareq, as she waited for a meal from a free kitchen in Beirut's Ashrafieh.
"I have no money to buy food items ... for them. My husband is sick and unemployed, and our life savings are locked up in the bank," she said.
Standing next to her in line was Joseph Flouti, an elderly unemployed man.
"I never imagined that I would stand at the door of a free kitchen for a meal," he said.
Without the help of various charities, many Lebanese would go hungry.
The World Food Programme (WFP) "remains at the forefront of the response to Lebanon's economic crisis", WFP spokeswoman Rasha Abou Dargham told Al-Mashareq.
"We supported two million people of the most vulnerable Lebanese and refugees last year by meeting their food and other essential needs," she said, adding that WFP "continues to provide assistance to the most needy people".
A food security analysis for Lebanon found that between September and December 2022, about two million residents of the country -- 37% of the total population -- were estimated to be in acute food insecurity.
About 700,000 Syrian refugees are included in this total.
The currency depreciation, the lifting of subsidies and the high cost of living prevent families from obtaining enough food and other basic needs every day, according to the Integrated Phase Classification food security analysis.
"The programme continues to closely monitor the fluctuation in prices and adjusts the value of the transfer for recipients of aid to protect their purchasing power," Abu Dargham said.
"Food rations, the size of which varies according to the number of family members and tops out at a maximum of 60kg of food, arrive monthly to registered families," she said.
"Cash assistance reaches them monthly through the Ministry of Social Affairs, at a rate of $25 per family and $20 per person."
Many blame Hizbullah
The economic crisis and collapse of the national currency have seen a decline in consumers' purchasing power, "leading to them facing difficulties in obtaining food", economic journalist Antoine Farah told Al-Mashareq.
"The political system, led by Hizbullah, is responsible for this collapse," he said.
On the one hand, he said, Hizbullah "played a negative role by isolating Lebanon from its Arab surroundings and Arab aid, investments and economic relations that supported Lebanon's economy".
On the other, he said, the Iran-backed party facilitated "the smuggling of goods and materials, including food for the Syrian regime".
The percentage of the poor and needy has increased significantly, Armenian Catholic Charitable Association director Monsignor Georges Asadorian said.
"We can see this from the large numbers of people who come to us to receive in-kind aid from the association and the Caritas Centre in Ashrafieh," he said.
"Families no longer have the money to buy ingredients for food to prepare at home, including bread," Asadorian added.
"The needs are immense and include food, medicine, hospitalisation, house rent money and school tuition, and we try as much as possible to provide the funds allocated for this purpose, especially for education, which we consider a priority."
The association prepares, in its kitchen, complete daily meals for 150 families, provided by generous donors and friends, in addition to daily bread bundles and monthly food rations, he said.
Rising poverty levels
The dire economic situation has plunged a large percentage of the Lebanese population into poverty, "especially in the last three years", Ajialouna Association president Lina Dada said.
The association has seen "an increase in the number of those registered with us for food, medical, hospital and educational assistance", she said.
Every year, the association provides food rations and supplies to 20,000 families on a regular basis, in addition to providing care for 5,000 needy families registered with the social department, including widows and orphans, she said.
Ajialouna also helps about 1,000 university students, she said, and two years ago it began to help families pay their rent so they can remain in their homes.
In Tripoli, the poverty rate has crossed "red lines", said Ward Organisation head Maha el-Jisr.
"Poverty is the topic of the hour, especially with the emergence of a new class of the poor, including members of the army and internal security forces," she said.
"We expanded the recipient pool of our food aid according to the resources of the association while continuing to support medical and hospital cases, providing financial donations to the needy, supporting small initiatives and providing a full meal daily and monthly food rations to 600 people," she said.
Many people come to the Sawa Mninjah Association each day to ask for help, association director Diana Dernaika told Al-Mashareq.
"They ask for medicine, a cylinder of cooking gas, and payment of the electricity bill and house rent," she said.
"All we can provide, in light of the decline in donations, is meals for about 1,000 people, clothes and the payment of some bills," Dernaika said.