Tessie* placed her microwave oven in storage, no longer uses her toaster, turned off the freezer and rarely irons clothes as she tries to slash her electricity bill.

“I can’t cope … I used to always dress up to go out,” she said, as she looked down at her black tracksuit trousers – which do not need ironing.

“I started collecting water from the washing machine in buckets, which I used to flush the toilet, even if it’s black,” she said, as she stood in a queue outside the Millennium Chapel in Paceville yesterday morning.

The 60-year-old from Żabbar was among the 200 people who waited for the chapel’s large garage door to open – to collect a few packets of pasta, rice, bread or crackers provided by the EU food aid programme.

People in the queue ranged from children accompanying their parents to pensioners – all qualify for food aid because they earn less than €6,275, or 60 per cent of the median national annual income.

Smartly dressed young women looked out of place as they waited in the queue that showed the reality of a hidden poverty.

One woman pushed an old pram which she hoped to fill with provisions for her family. Others were armed with carrier bags and held their identity cards and entitlement papers as they eagerly waited for the door to roll up.

“Life has become too difficult. Costs are always rising and now the price of gas went up again… Even the price of meat went up. I can only afford 250 grammes and give it to my grandchildren,” Tessie said.

15 per cent

– the proportion of Malta’s population at risk of poverty

A 72-year-old woman from Ta’ Xbiex said she felt as though she had gone back in time to the days when people had to queue for food rations during the war.

A 61-year-old woman said she received a pension of €400 a month and could not make ends meet. About €100 covered her rent and the rest paid the bills, food and medicines.

Though small, the EU food aid was “better than nothing,” the woman said, as she expressed concern that the food aid programme might come to an end in 2013.

According to EU rules and a European Court ruling last year, the €500 million annual budget for the scheme had to be slashed to €113 million and completely phased out.

However, an 11th-hour deal struck among EU agriculture ministers at the end of last year will keep the scheme going, at least until the end of 2013. Malta’s allocation of funds for this year is €722,000.

The Millennium Chapel, headed by Fr Saviour Grima, hands out food to about 2,000 people each month. It is one of 60 parishes and NGOs that hand out the food to 25,000 people in need.

More than 15 per cent of Malta’s population is at risk of poverty.

Caritas, a Church organisation, recently proposed a €22 weekly increase to the minimum wage which stands at €158 per week.

Volunteers at the chapel helped hand out the food and fill in the paperwork.

After some time it started to rain and people at the bottom of the queue ran into the chapel to access the garage from a sheltered side entrance. Arguments then erup-ted as they accused each other of jumping the queue.

“You see how we’ve ended up… fighting over food,” one woman shouted out.

*Name has been changed