For decades, Brazil's poor had little else to cling to than their meager possessions and scant hopes for a better future.
But a government program now is helping lift tens of millions in dire need out of poverty, in the process creating a vast new Brazilian consuming class.
"I can buy things with that money: clothes, shoes, I pay for services, and the best thing: I was able to buy roof tiles, and put a proper roof on my home," Maria Alves, 45, an illiterate mother of six, one of Brazil's newly-enabled consumers, told AFP.
There are 13 million families in poverty now receiving a government subsidy in Brazil, Latin America's emerging economic and political giant, in what many studies call a huge leftist government success story.
The Family Basics subsidy, as the program is called, is geared toward Brazilians whose income is between 39-78 dollars per person, providing an average subsidy of 75 dollars -- perhaps a bit more, depending on the number of children in the home.
With 190 million people in a sprawling, continent-sized country, Brazil boasts that it was able to lift out of poverty 30 million people during the 2003-2010 government of ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
A popular leader with the Workers Party, former union leader Lula was Brazil's first democratically elected leftist president.
Although markets at first were skittish, Lula allowed businesses to prosper while remaining stepping up the battled against poverty.
In the half-decade from 2003 to 2008, extreme or abject poverty was reduced sharply from 12 percent to 4.8 percent.
Brazil now is way ahead of the game in efforts to eradicate want and suffering, achieving nothing short of a social miracle as it makes major inroads in confronting the same crisis that has flummoxed much wealthier countries.
The United Nations set Millennium Goals that gave 25 years to make the same progress against abject poverty that Brazil made in five, said Andre Portela Souza, a professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation and researcher on family economics.
Millions of poor who once had nothing to eat now have become consumers because they are given a subsidy in exchange for making sure their kids get to school and get medical care.
Typical of the types of gains possible under the program is Alves, who lives on the outskirts of modernist Brasilia.
Her humble home is far from the middle class comfort enjoyed by what economists call the C-class, the growing number of Brazilians with incomes between $674 and $2,907 per month -- enough to afford them access to credit, which has helped fuel breakneck domestic growth.
Still, for Maria, her monthly government subsidy payment of $114 dollars has been a life-changer.
Combined with her earnings as a babysitter, the money has made it possible for her to see her daughter Cleyde through high school -- the first in her family to complete secondary education.
"Now I would like to study (at university), but I can't because private universities are very expensive and public ones are too hard to get into," the young woman, 22, said.
Another receipt of the government largesse, Veroneide Lima de Santos, at 28, has six children and a seventh on the way.
She says she now an idea about the difference between abject poverty and a more "livable" poverty: "Now I buy things and I can dream. I can dream about a expanding the house."
In 2011 alone, Brazil will invest almost 12 billion dollars in the plan. But the impact of some support for Brazil's poorest is varied and far-reaching, experts say.
"The positive thing about these policies is that they are aimed at breaking the perverse circle of poverty -- in other words, that the kids of poor people must be poor," said Souza, who added that the program's success stems from its focus on the twin pillars of education and health care.
But he said, despites its successes, there is room for improvement.
"longer-term, the education the children are receiving has to improve for them to be able to compete in the workplace," the economist said.