The NGO unwittingly became the center of a heated national debate when it started refusing membership to foreigners. Now, it says, it will focus on single parents and the elderly, regardless of nationality.
A food bank in the German city of Essen that found itself at the center of the country's increasingly divisive debate about immigration announced on Tuesday that it would once again allow non-Germans to sign up for its services this week. The non-profit had introduced the measure in January over worries about resources and the comfort of elderly patrons.
The measure had always been a temporary one, the organization's management committee agreed on Tuesday, lifting the ban on foreigners effective Wednesday.
The Essen food bank (or Tafel, as it is known in German) implemented a rule on January 10 that said only people with German passports could sign up for new membership cards. The reasons they cited were that 75 percent of members were foreign, and that older Germans were staying away because of "pushing and shoving" in the line for food.
But when the media caught wind of this in February, the food bank was shocked to find itself at the center of a heated national debate about the status of migrants and refugees. The organization's manager, Jörg Sartor, argued that the move was not xenophobic, but rather a necessary decision for dealing with limited funds.
He added that as an NGO, the food bank was not the last line of defense between the needy and starvation, as it's the government's job to keep people from going hungry.
Focus on single parents, small children, elderly
But as observers and lawmakers from across the political spectrum pointed out, such measures should be decided based on neediness, not nationality.
The Tafel's entrances and vans were vandalized with graffiti reading "F*** Nazis," and even Chancellor Angela Merkel waded into the debate, saying that she didn't think the food bank had dealt with its issues in the proper way.
Announcing the change in policy on Tuesday, Sartor said that from now on "when things get tight, we will focus on certain groups," such as single parents, families with small children and the elderly – regardless of origin.
es/jm (AFP, dpa)