I grew up in a place and time when having some sort of voluntary experience on your resumé or CV was almost as important as your exam results. In 1980s Ireland, it was a given that you’d be asked about it in just about any job interview. And therein lies a big question. Did people volunteer because they knew they’d be asked about it or were they asked about it because it was a given that they volunteered?
While it’s not something that keeps me awake at night, I get why some ex-pats feel an innate need to give something back to wherever they’re living. And I also get why seemingly altruistic offers of help are often met with suspicion and distrust. Cultures differ. People differ. Motives differ.
Some people volunteer to do good. Others might want to meet new people. More still might be looking for a sense of belonging. From the outside looking in, personal satisfaction ranks right up there. But talking to Chris Clarke recently about the Foundation he’s set up, he said that he doesn’t get the satisfaction everyone thinks or expects him to get from his voluntary work.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Not everyone knows who Chris Clarke is or what he’s doing in the city.
A bit of background. Born in Shropshire, England, Clarke gravitated towards the bright lights and glamour of Brighton when he was in his early 20s. There, he set up a recruitment company, facilitating the movement of workers in the hospitality industry around Europe. For 10 years, he spent a lot of time in the air, travelling between countries. Away more often than he was at home, he decided to relocate himself – to Budapest. And move some of his operations with him. After a brief interlude in Portugal to set up an office there, he returned to the Hungarian capital where he invested in and now co-manages Clarke & White Real Estate.
If you’ve attended any of the ex-pat events in the city, you’ll recognise the name from the sponsors’ lists. In all three countries, Clarke has been involved with food banks, volunteering in the UK and Portugal, and now in Budapest, as founder of the Food Bank Aid Foundation.
The aptly named Food Bank for Refugees was set up last year in response to the flood of people fleeing from the war in Ukraine. It’s Clarke’s biggest charitable work to date.
Like many others, he was involved from the start in helping to find places for refugees to stay in Hungary. He’d made daily trips to the train station bringing food and clothes and what he could gather. He then adopted seven families, making weekly trips to deliver food to them in his car. With the flow showing little sign of staunching, he knew something more needed to be done. He contacted the Scottish Church to see if they’d allow him to use their space – and they agreed.
They placed one advert on Facebook and 20 families replied. By word-of-mouth, it upped to 40. Today, they’re providing for 100 families each week with another 400 on a waiting list. It’s got to be satisfying, right?
‘People tell me that I must get huge satisfaction from doing what we do. Knowing that we’re helping. But I don’t. Not really. Because I know that so much more needs to be done.’
Families who have fled from cities, towns, and villages in Ukraine, leaving behind everything they’ve worked for, uncertain about what they’ll return to, need stability. And that’s what the Food Bank offers. Stability. A regular supply of foodstuffs that they select from a list of 30 staples, packed for them each week. Every week. Without fail.
‘Families apply online and stay until they no longer need us.’
In addition, each family member gets a token when they come to pick up their supplies on a Thursday. They can use this token to pick from the Extras Table. It has things that weren’t on their shopping list. Like the Ukrainian staples bulgar wheat and buckwheat. Or toiletries. Just like when you see something in the supermarket that wasn’t on your list – that one thing you didn’t realise you needed. It makes the experience all the more personal.
Sometime last year, they added a café so that now, on Thursdays, families can sit and chat over a coffee and cake. The nourishment the Food Bank provides is good for both body and soul.
The Food Bank Aid Foundation is the new legal foundation that will see this particular voluntary group through the war and beyond. The panel of 40 volunteers are mostly ex-pats who hail from Canada, England, India, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Syria, the USA, and Wales. It’s a moving roster, as people move on. They’re always open to help though, so if you have time on your hands and want to do something that makes a difference, then get in contact with them: email@example.com
If you don’t have the time but still want to contribute, they’re now accepting financial donations. While the International Organization for Migration has promised funds till the end of the year, the more money they have, the more they help they can give.
If you’re short on time and money and still want to help, they’re collecting chocolate Easter Bunnies for 300 Ukrainian kids this Easter. You can drop yours off at the Clarke and White office on József nádor tér, the Scottish Church on Vörösmarty utca, Becketts Irish Pub on Liszt Ferenc tér, Bortodoor on Zichy Jenő utca, Davy Byrne’s on Jokai utca, or Gaby’s on Katona József utca. And, of course, the now rationed flour, sugar, and vegetable oil are always welcomed. In date and unopened.
As Clarke says, ‘you can never do as much as you want to do.’