Ad exec feeds downtrodden Venezuelans from his bicycle seat

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Andres Burgos, a 55-year-old publicist, gives a package of arepas or corn flour patties to a man begging for money at a traffic light in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. Burgos hands out his homemade arepas from the seat of his bicycle to needy children, adults and the elderly. He calls it BiciArepazo, which translates roughly as Bike Arepas. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS – Andrés Burgos’ world was becoming increasingly solitary. The office of his advertising firm was practically empty, thanks to Venezuela’s crushing economic crisis, and many of his relatives had sought a brighter future abroad.

So Burgos marshaled his cooking skills to reach out to others — the hungry who normally survive by rummaging through piles of garbage for food on the streets of the capital, Caracas.

Burgos, 55, started handing out arepas — Venezuela’s beloved corn flour patties — from the seat of his bicycle to needy children, adults and the elderly. He calls it BiciArepazo, which translates roughly as Bike Arepas.

Burgos started small with his own money a year ago, passing out a few arepas on his route from home to the office, or in visits to nearby hospitals. His efforts have grown steadily after family, friends and small-business owners learned about them on social media and asked if they could pitch in.

In March, after authorities imposed stiff quarantine measures to combat the coronavirus, the number of homeless and even well-dressed people he saw digging through garbage increased.

That’s when he went from handing out 20 arepas a day to 150.

There’s no denying that food insecurity has deepened among Venezuelan families, said Maritza Landaeta, coordinator at a Caracas-based charity called the Foundation for Food and Nutrition José María Bengoa. She said there’s no safety net for masses of people who survive on informal work, such as selling snacks, cigarettes or coffee on the street.

Hunger was a problem in Venezuela before the pandemic struck. At the end of February, the United Nations World Food Program reported that 9.3 million Venezuelans — almost a third of the population — were suffering from moderate or severe food insecurity.