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2017 Grateful 50

In trying to find a word to describe a friend of mine recently, I had occasion to Google the term ‘giving people’. And once I’d stopped trying to remember how I’d found similar information before Google, I started to think. Three things struck me from a list of 10 things that supposedly characterise a ‘giving person’ and what they give to the rest of us. [All are relevant but these struck me as particularly pertinent.]

The gift of requesting help: Requesting help is is a difficult one. It’s something I’ve had to learn myself. It not easy because somewhere buried inside all our insecurities is that irritating voice that tells us that asking for help is a sign of weakness, of failure. But if we view it not as helping ourselves but as giving others the chance to help us, it takes on a different appearance. Giving people know when and how to ask for help.

The gift of opportunity: Our rhetoric is full of if onlys. I could spend the better part of a day listing mine: If only I spoke Hungarian, I’d apply to go on study tours. If only I had time, I’d spend two hours a day learning the one language I need. If only I had an ear for music, I’d be able to better pronounce my letters. For many with a community spirit, the if onlys could also include ‘if only I had the opportunity, I’d volunteer to do something good, to give something back, to help make someone else’s lot a little easier.’ Giving people do this – they create an opportunity for the rest of us to give something back.

The gift of purpose: In a world where insecurity is rife, change is a constant, and lunacy prevails, it anchors us when we have purpose, some clear, solid goal which we can work towards alongside others also intent on making our corner of the world just a little better than it was yesterday. Giving people give the gift of purpose.

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Just when I thought that my mate Zsuzsa Bozo had topped it all with the soup kitchen/feed the homeless drive she and her gang have been working tirelessly on, a wonderful initiative that the Caley and Age of Hope are facilitating, she goes and takes it one step further.

The cold weather is going to be around for a while and warm coats are needed. The Caledonia has joined the Free Coat initiative. It’s simple. If you have coats you’ve grown out of, don’t like, don’t want, are not wearing and they’re warm… hang them up on the coat-rack outside the Caley where those who have a greater need can come pick them up (and remember to bring a hanger, too). And if you don’t have coats that are warm and suitable but you still want to help, why not swing by any one of the many many many secondhand-clothes shops in the city and buy a couple. Then drop them by the Caley, and while you’re there, stick your head in the kitchen to see if help is needed to peel those veg. The soup drive continues all this week and ingredients are needed.

This week, I’m adding my thanks to those of the hundreds of homeless who are grateful for the soup and sustenance delivered through the good auspices of Zsuzsa and Ákos. Without their provision of an opportunity and a purpose and without their ask for help, the rest of us might well still be mired in a sea of if onlys. They are two truly giving people.

Zsuzsa shared this story with me, a story that has done its bit to restore my faith in human nature. I hope she won’t mind me passing it on:

I left the Caledonia, distributing the soups with Ákos and Gergő. Once we finished, I got out of the van, said happily goodbye to both of them, not realizing that I had no money or no metro pass with me. So I was there , out in Határ Ut, at the metro underground, thinking how I could get back… I spoke to the people of the street there (homeless). One old man went and came back, holding a ticket, he just bought. For me… that’s all he had.

Yep, you reap what you sow.

 

Give us our Sunday bread

If I had a bottle of wine for every good idea I’ve had or heard in a pub, I’d need a pretty big cellar. There is something innately Irish about setting the world to rights over a few drinks. Creativity flows, innovation is at its best, and a sense of altruism pervades. And, it would seem, that the same thing happens in Hungary, with Hungarians.

I was introduced to Máté a couple of weeks ago down on Klauzál tér, in a little pub called Kisüzem (small business). It was Sunday, about 1pm. Inside, volunteers were putting food parcels together. Outside, in the park across the road, scores of people hung around waiting for the 2pm distribution. Each Sunday, about 200 to 250 of the city’s needy ‒ some homeless, some not ‒ are fed hot, restaurant-quality food, prepared by volunteer chefs from restaurants in the area.

At the heart of Budapest’s night life, about 40 or so collection jars for the project – Heti betevő (a rather clever modification of the idea of ‘daily bread’) – can be found in bars up and down Kazinczy and in the surrounding VIIth district. All money collected buys the much-needed ingredients, and much more food is donated.

(C) Kinga Sonnevend / Heti Betevő

(C) Kinga Sonnevend / Heti Betevő

It all started last Christmas, over a few drinks. Máté and some friends were in the pub one night, talking about how much money they spent on partying and enjoying themselves while next to them others were going hungry. One of them, a chef, said that he could cook some hot dinners if others would organise distribution. Instead of being logged as a nice thought, one that would languish with all the other good ideas inspired by palinka and beer, this one took hold. Just one week later, they were in business. It took just seven days to make it happen.

They have a ticketing system. They figure out how many meals they can make up and then issue a corresponding number of tickets at noon. The food is distributed two hours later. The group self-organises. There’s no trouble, no pushing and shoving, no getting out of line. For many, their lives have an institutional feel – they’re used to obeying rules, queuing up, waiting. Each person in line had a story. Their journey to Klauzál tér wasn’t one they chose. Life and circumstances dictated. A mother with seven children, two with Down’s syndrome. An elderly couple finding it difficult to survive on their meagre pensions. A youngish man with a vacant stare that looked into another world. A quiet dignity pervaded.

Volunteers serve those in need and some of the volunteers are also on the receiving side. That ownership is important for everyone. What is also important is that the food is good – high quality. We’re not talking leftovers and stuff that has reached its sell-by date; we’re talking restaurant-quality meals prepared with the freshest of ingredients by the finest of chefs. About 30 volunteers have been involved from the start. Another hundred or so drop by every now and then to help out. I saw some faces I might have recognised had I been more up on who’s who in this town. It was good to see those with plenty taking time to help those with not nearly enough. It was heartening to see that people are engaged, that people care.

There are other such initiatives in town. The Budapest Bike Maffia distributes foods on wheels. Food not Bombs distributes food on Saturdays over on Boráros tér in the IXth district. They all cooperate on fundraising activities and learn from each other’s experiences. If other districts need the same, the lads at Heti betevő are happy to help replicate. Their system works. To donate, check their FB page http://bit.ly/perselyek

First published in the Budapest Times 7 November 2014