During the spring wave of the pandemic, everyone who could was urged to stay at home. Due to this, many lost their jobs and their earning potential, putting their family’s livelihood at risk. The situation was even more tragic in two buildings on Hős utca in Budapest, where families with multiple disadvantages live, for whom a single hot meal was in question even before the outbreak. We learned about the problem from the Kontúr Association, which has been present in the area since 2011, and reached them through Tímea Bagdi, who works for the Oltalom Charitable Association. The flats in the street are characterised by a lack of comfort and small floor space, which are crammed together, with most of them being one-room flats with kitchenettes, where families with 5-6 or even 8 children live. During the period of the epidemic, when the schools were closed, the daily meals for the children living there, previously provided by the schools, were not available. We decided that this could not continue. Chef Zoli Lendvai, actor Győző Szabó and the noÁr team got together and with the help of noÁr coordinator Ottilia Tóth-Kása, they organised the Toxikomák kitchen.
Our volunteer chef rented a kitchen where 100-120 meals were prepared per day. Operations started on 27 April 2020, from 7:00am to 3:00pm, 5 days a week for 5 weeks. During this period, 2743 meals were served. We advertised our idea on the Toxikomák Kitchen Facebook group, followed by the weekly menu prepared by the chef. We recruited sponsors and volunteers: some bought the raw materials for the next day’s lunch, others donated money. Volunteers (deliverers) took on a pre-arranged schedule to deliver the food to Hős Street. Between 11:30 and 12:00, the menu for the day was ready and the suppliers waited in front of the kitchen for the rations to be put into the special transport boxes, which were usually taken to Hős Street in two trolleys (departure 12:00-12:30). Volunteers from noÁr and the Kontúr Association distributed the food from apartment to apartment so that everyone could have a hot lunch and no one was left without one. It took 1-1.5 hours to distribute the rations. In the afternoon, the boxes were returned to the kitchen.
The impact of the project
The impact of the project is still felt today on several levels:
- Some of the beneficiaries have become involved in the work, looking for opportunities to foster relationships, encourage each other and inspire each other to do their part. For example, they tidied up their yard as much as possible, and among the rubbish and debris, they and the children made a joint activity for the volunteers on the last day.
- The volunteers of the Contour Association helped our volunteers a lot to get to know the people and children living in Hero Street and their mentality and living conditions. They prepared sensitizing descriptions, which reading and accepting them was the “ticket” to volunteering and distributing food. It is also important for the Contour Association that their work is now seen and appreciated by many more people.
- Volunteers have also become more sensitive, as most of them could not imagine that there was a place in the heart of Budapest where people live in such tragic conditions. They were shocked and sobered by the fact that many of the children living there had never been inside the city and had never seen a metro or taken a tram. This kind of personal connection and experience helps to (re)help and break down prejudices later on.
The project benefited from the expertise of the Contour Association and the trust they managed to build with the locals. Their openness to help us throughout the project was important. The noÁr coordinator, Ottilia Tóth-Kása and our volunteers worked extremely hard and were incredibly professional in their organisation. And the familiarity of the actors Győző Szabó and Áron Molnár and the fantastic cooking of chef Zoltán Lendvai were able to increase the impact of the project. It was a real team effort, helping those most in need in the worst situations.