Needy families in Estonia have long been recipients of clothing and all manner of goods from wheelchairs to mattresses supplied by private Finnish benefactors. Most of the aid packages have contained used clothing.
From last year, aid deliveries have increasingly included food. Finnish charity travellers often make personal visits to the families that they assist.
The recession of 2008 led to a decline in standards of living in Estonia. Consequently, more ordinary poor families with children have become recipients of aid, in addition to homes for the elderly, orphanages, and shelters for stray animals.
Real wages have recovered only in the fourth quarter of last year.
“The need has increased considerably, when we look at families with children”, says Hannele Valkeeniemi of the Häme section of the Mannerheim League for Child Welfare.
The organisation delivers aid to the Tartu region in the south of Estonia.
Finland-Estonia associations in different parts of Finland have also noted the increased need for assistance.
Help from the Kokkola region goes mainly to poor families in the south of Estonia. The Hämeenlinna Finland-Estonia Association says that it has delivered about 500 kilos of used clothing to Tartu and Narva, and other places.
“The situation changed considerably in 2011. People started asking for food”, says Pentti Survo for whom providing assistance to Estonia has become a profession. He heads an association in the west of Finland which delivers a load of aid to northeast Estonia once a week. Late last year the group made its 800th delivery.
Estonia has many grass-roots charity organisations which deliver requests for aid from Finland. The plight of families and the long-term unemployed has been featured heavily in the Estonian media, while local politicians tend to avoid the subject in their speeches.
Poverty is worst in single-parent families and in families with three or more children.
The child supplement in Estonia is EUR 20 a month per child, while the long-term unemployed are dependent on income supplements which rose to EUR 76.70 a month this year. The minimum wage for full-time work is EUR 278 a month.
Food in Estonia is about one third cheaper than in Finland, but prices last year rose about six per cent compared with the previous year.