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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today, Standard & Poor's downgraded Spain's credit rating. S&P now values the country at a BBB-, the agency's lowest investment grade level. For a different indicator of how bad the economy is now, in that country, you could look at the appeals there for charitable giving. Spaniards have long donated to the Red Cross, for instance, to help starving children in other countries. But with Europe's debt crisis, there are more needy people at home. Lauren Frayer reports on the first Red Cross fund drive to ask Spaniards to help fellow Spaniards.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Across Spain, there's a new TV ad showing a worried father with two young children. They're sharing an omelet made from a single egg. The fridge is empty.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED CROSS TV AD)

FRAYER: Two Red Cross volunteers arrive, and the music swells. They hand over donation parcels, and the now-smiling children unpack milk, cooking oil and pasta.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED CROSS TV AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: (Foreign language spoken)

FRAYER: More and more people than you imagine, need help in our country, a voice says. That's the Red Cross' new message to Spain. The economic crisis has left hundreds of thousands of Spaniards hungry. One in four here is out of work - the highest rate in Europe. More than half of 20-somethings are jobless. Red Cross spokesman Fernando Cuevas says the crisis is finally catching up with Spain's middle-class.

FERNANDO CUEVAS: (Through translator) We faced a huge number of pleas for help from people who until now, never had to rely on charities like us.

FRAYER: Cuevas says the Red Cross is juggling 15 percent more aid requests from Spaniards this year, an estimated 300,000 new mouths to feed - people like Carlos Prat, in line with about 200 other people outside a food bank, in downtown Madrid. The 28-year-old lost his job waiting tables a year ago. He sleeps on a friend's couch, and lives on charity handouts.

CARLOS PRAT: Here, the economy - it's really, really hard. We don't have jobs, all right? I speak little bit of five languages - and nothing. Nothing.

FRAYER: Thousands of Red Cross volunteers fanned out across Spain today, asking Spaniards to donate to their countrymen - for the first time. In the past, fundraising here focused on sending money to Africa's needy, for example.

JUAN SEMPRUN: Now, our situation is bad. So the ones that need help are us.

FRAYER: Juan Semprun was one of those approached by a Red Cross representative today, in the street. I asked him if he donates.

SEMPRUN: I used to. I quit all my donations like, a month ago because I'm broke.

FRAYER: His business went bust, and he's thinking of moving abroad. He says he's lost hope that the crisis will pass quickly. And while the tapas bars stayed full for the first couple years of recession, that is no longer the case, says economist Gayle Allard.

GAYLE ALLARD: You know, the first year we'd comment on, oh, they're still in the streets; they're still going out. Spaniards managed to have a good time through all of this. But now, you're starting to see, I think, things are - are biding.

FRAYER: The Red Cross is nevertheless hoping that Spaniards can contribute nearly $40 million, over the next two years.

For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid.

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