Mercedes, Nani, Marisa, and Filly, volunteers at Fundación Benéfica Virgen de Valvanuz / TAYLOR FAUST
Behind a facade that does not attract anyone’s attention on Pagés del Corro Street in the neighborhood of Triana, Filly and her peers work to help the needy from Seville and beyond.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon. Two women enter the Fundación Benéfica Virgen de Valvanuz and ask the person working for large-size clothes. “All of the clothes are very small,” Filly says, but the volunteer continues looking for clothes and placing them on top of the table next to the door. The women look at the items and decide that some of them don’t work. “How annoying!” Filly comments when they continue asking her for the same items that the foundation doesn’t have. Another woman enters. Filly asks her for some personal information that she enters into a book. She’s looking for jeans in size 46. There aren’t any, so Filly offers her clothes for her daughter.
When the women enter the part of the foundation where the clothes are distributed, they can hear the volunteers helping other people or chatting amongst themselves. There is an open door on the right. Here, there are shoes for women, men, and children, in addition to some clothing items for women, hanging from hangers and placed on a shelf. Behind a curtain is the menswear section, which is closed now because their distribution doesn’t take place on Tuesday afternoons. Another room contains the majority of the clothes for women and children. Children’s clothing is on the left, behind the table where the volunteers ask the people about their needs. There are five shelves of women’s clothing, including one specifically for younger women. Additionally, jackets hang from a high bar suspended from the wall, and there are boxes and bags of clothes that don’t fit on the shelves or that contain out of season clothing.
Filly’s name is easy for any newcomers to learn since it´s written in black marker on her white jacket, but also because it is the name heard called most often by all the women who work for the foundation. “Filly!” “Filly!” calls Marisa, Nani, or Mercedes. Filly usually decides the activities of the day, or the place where an article of clothing should go. She moves confidently, sometimes standingon a chair in order to put clothes on the high shelves.
When she is not dedicating her time to the people that visit the foundation, Filly has some hobbies. “I like the movies, painting exhibits, to walk through Seville, which is very pretty, I really like to walk around the center to see the Giralda, the neighborhood of Santa Cruz, and I also read when I have time.” She especially likes books by María Dueñas.
Filly grew up in Seville, in the neighborhood of Los Remedios. Before working at the foundation, she was employed at a pharmacy. But, she left it when she got married. From this point on, her work took place at home and with her two daughters: Setefilla, and María Ángeles. Her husband died 17 years ago in a motorcycle accident.
Over 20 years ago, Filly asked her priest for a place to help others through the Catholic organization Cáritas Diocesana that does extensive social work in Seville. “Every parish has their streets. So, what we do is help the needy people in our area pay their electricity bills, rent, for their food, water, and whatever we can. It depends on the money we have.” Later, thanks to a woman she met in Cáritas, Filly found Virgen de Valvanuz. “I had no idea I’d be working with this type of foundation… but it seems like God calls you.”
The Catholic faith is a very important part of Filly’s life. “I was always in the church,” she remembers. She also attended a Catholic school as a child. She only stopped going to church when her two daughters were young. “With children, it’s more difficult to go to mass because they annoy you.” But, she returned with her daughters when they grew older. And now, these daughters have grown up; they are 43 and 46, and are the mothers of Filly´s two granddaughters and two grandsons: Setefilla, Cayetana, Juan, and Miguel.
The Fundación Benéfica Virgen de Valvanuz was created in 1983 and has centers in Cádiz, where the central location of the foundation is, Málaga, Seville, and in the city of San José, in the district ofCambyretá-Itapúa of Paraguay. In addition to giving clothes to the people who need them, the foundation is open Tuesdays and Thursdays for the homeless to eat breakfast and have a shower. “I spent a few years working with the showers, but something happened that scared me, and I stopped coming… my husband did not want me to come.” And now her volunteerism is centered in the clothing distribution.
The foundation gets more users during the coldest months of the year, when those that depend on it need to avoid the cold. In the summer, from the last days of June to the last days of September, the foundation does not offer any of its services.
The clothes, donated by people who know the foundation, are evaluated before they are hung or sent to the shelf, box, or bag where there are similar clothes. The volunteers put the clothes that don´t meet their quality requirements in a plastic bag to send them to another foundation in the city, Madre Coraje. These clothes are stained or look too old. But people working at Madre Coraje mend some of the clothes and sell them in their own shops. Other items go to different places. The unused clothes go to Perú where they are distributed by Jesuits and Cáritas Perú in 11 different departments in the country.
“What I like the best is to organize the clothes,” Filly says smiling. “Giving them out, I don’t like.” The volunteer recognizes that not everything is easy in the foundation. “Working with people is getting harder all the time because all sorts of people come here, some well-behaved, others not so much, and you have to have a lot of patience.”
The foundation does not limit who can use its services. Some are from Seville, and others come from outside the city. In fact, Moroccans make up one of the most numerous groups. Some ask for clothes for themselves, and others for their kids. Often , some faces become more familiar and, after some time, they form a friendship with Filly.
The volunteers of the Fundación Virgen de Valvanuz serve four to six, sometimes up to 12 people in a day. This number is much lower than in the days of the economic crisis that began in 2008 in Spain. “Many people came to ask for clothes… up to 20 or 20-something.” Just between 2008 and 2009, 1.5 million people lost their jobs in the country. In this same period, the unemployment rate rose to 18.7%. In the worst moment of the crisis, the end of 2011, it reached 23%.
The work of the volunteers does not happen on a big scale, only person by person. “You’re not going to fix or change the world but… the small things that everyone can do, I think that’s enough,” Filly says.
When all of the women have left with their bags full of clothes, and everything is organized in the foundation, Filly locks the door and goes down the stairs that bring her to Pagés del Corro Street. She turns left and walks the 122 meters to her house on Troya Street. Her work is done until next week.