Public Defender Checks Implementation of Free Meal Programme
In February and March 2022, the Public Defender's Office monitored 59 randomly selected soup kitchens operating in 25 municipalities of Georgia.
It should be noted that the free meal programme is being implemented in almost all municipalities, which is an important service for realizing the right to adequate food. The right to adequate food implies access to the food necessary for a healthy and active life, including the minimum ration of adequate calories, protein and other nutrients.
The Public Defender considers that the situation in some of the municipalities, both in terms of food delivery service and sanitary-hygienic conditions, meets the minimum requirements, however, the overall situation is unsatisfactory.
In particular, the monitoring revealed the following:
- There is no uniform standard for the management or delivery of free meal service in the country, and therefore, no amount or calories of food to be served, no mandatory requirements relating to the arrangement of physical environment, safety or sanitary-hygienic conditions, are defined by the relevant standards.
- When implementing the service, the nutritional needs of the beneficiaries are not considered, and the ration mainly depends on the amount of money allocated from the budget. Accordingly, no energy value of the dinner, age of the beneficiaries, their health conditions or religious beliefs are considered when planning the menu.
- No relevant specialists are involved in the menu planning. There have been cases when the menu was planned by an accountant and not by a specialist.
- In most cases, the menu is not changed throughout the year.
- It is noteworthy that in some cases, especially in Tbilisi, beneficiaries take only bread from the soup kitchens. In particular, on specific days, when only soups are served (pea soup, bean soup, vegetarian soup), beneficiaries take only bread away. This can be explained both by the fact that beneficiaries may not like the taste of the meal or by the lack of calories. Nutritious meal containing meat is served only two days a week. The number of beneficiaries arriving at the soup kitchens increases during those days. In addition, it should be noted that some of the soup kitchens forbid beneficiaries to take away only bread.
- The small amount of money allocated for soup kitchens is especially noticeable in the Tbilisi municipality, where the amount per beneficiary is GEL 1. 30, which is less than the daily amount per beneficiary in the regions (for example, GEL 2.47 in - Borjomi, GEL 2.50 - in Kutaisi, GEL 2.05 - in Akhaltsikhe, GEL 2.20 - in Samtredia, GEL 2.65 - in Telavi).
Soup kitchens are usually located in the administrative centers and beneficiaries living in the remote villages have to travel long distances to receive the service. For example, the beneficiaries living in the farthest village in the Baghdati municipality have to travel about 30 km daily to use the free meal service, while the residents of the Chkhorotsku municipality have to travel 15 km.
Some of the municipalities do not have additional lists along with the major lists of the beneficiaries. Accordingly, the municipality explains to the waiting persons that they will be able to receive free meals only if a person is removed from the major list due to death or other reasons.
The monitoring made it clear that the majority of facilities do not meet universal design standards. The facilities do not have elevators, some entrances do not have ramps and buildings are only accessible by stairs. Almost every entrance, including those with a ramp, has a threshold that prevents wheelchair users from moving independently.
Production of segregated statistics on service users according to disability is another problem. No information is processed on the beneficiaries’ special nutritional needs (including the nutritional needs of people with critical health condition, children, pregnant women, geriatrics).
The challenges identified make it clear that it is important for the Government of Georgia to ensure the development and approval of minimum standards for free meal services, which should take into account issues relating to the management of the service, menu calories, food quality, safety, sanitary and hygienic requirements, rehabilitation and equipment of food facilities, compliance with hygienic norms, etc. It is also important for the local municipalities to study the local food-related needs and to collect statistical data, as well as to increase the municipal budget and seek additional funds in order to ensure access to food according to the existing needs.
The monitoring was carried out with the support of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Joint Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Fund.
 For example, a soup kitchen located in the Gldani district.