For homeless people, for old single people, for poor children, a hot meal a day may be just a dream.
For homeless people, for old single people, for poor children, a hot meal a day, or even a week, may be just a dream. In order to help any and all these people, a group of volunteers from Cluj started in 2013 the project named 'One Hot Meal'. Today, 5 years later, the idea was taken over by groups in other cities, offering 900 weekly meals for people who either cannot afford a hot meal or cannot make their own.
Here is Raimonda Boian, one of the project initiators: “The project has been growing nicely, and the target group and beneficiaries are people from all social categories who lack food. At the soup kitchen I run we cater to people coming to Museum Square in Cluj-Napoca to beg for food. They are homeless people, but also people who have a home, but don't have food. We're not social workers, we don't make social research, we don't question the people who come seeking food. What's important is that they get fed.”
Even though One Hot Meal is an independent project, it would not be possible without collaboration with local authorities and the Social Assistance Directorates. Along the years, this collaboration spread from Cluj to Constanta to Adjud, Satu-Mare and Bucharest. The food is procured entirely by donation. Cluj is the place that has the most food distribution points, manned exclusively by volunteers from all walks of life.
Here is Raimonda Boian: “At the soup kitchen I coordinate in Cluj, I have volunteer teams that registered for up until January 2019. I am sorry and I know I will cause frustration when I have to respond to demands, because I can only run registrations in January next year. Our volunteers also enjoy cooking. Even if they don't know much about it, they still want to participate. I believe it's attractive. The activity in itself is pleasant, and the volunteers are not too busy, they make one sandwich at the most.”
In Bucharest, the One Hot Meal project was implemented by one of the volunteers, Monica Abagiu: “I took over the project in October. I registered as a volunteer in May 2017, then I took over the coordination in Bucharest together with Raluca Apostol. I'd long wanted to get into a project like this. I picked One Hot Meal because we like cooking, and also the idea that we could help someone. Also, we had been volunteering in other places before.”
Monica Abagiu volunteers in addition to various other activities in her life. She said she doesn't have a hard time blending into her existence being a volunteer for the two places where she volunteers for the project. One of them is Cantina Omnis in sector 4, a disadvantaged area in Bucharest. The other is in Ferentari, another problem area in the capital city.
Here is Monica Abagiu: “The other is a mobile soup kitchen, more precisely an ambulance with a kitchen in the courtyard of a school in Ferentari neighborhood. At Cantina Omnis, the beneficiaries are mostly adults, around 70 up to 100. They come here during the week, but we cook only at weekends. As for the school, we feed the children going there. We have joined Valeriu Nicolae and other volunteers who help children with homework, and we cook for them. We have lots of children with problems, social assistance cases. We have, as I said, between 70 and 100 beneficiaries. We cook there on Saturdays and Sundays.”
Hot meals twice a week are so sought after by the needy that Monica Abagiu is thinking of expanding the project in other places in Bucharest. She may get help from an offshoot of the project, the ShareFood app.
George Jiglău, one of the initiators of the project in Cluj, supported the creation of the app, which also aims at combating food waste. Here he is talking to us about it: “This is an app meant to facilitate communication between producers and distributors of food and a community in need of food. In the five years since we've been running the One Hot Meal project, first in Cluj, then in the other cities, we have also made contact with the donors. I am talking about the entities that have more food than they can sell, and this food many times gets thrown away, even though no one wants to throw food away. The app meets the two sides in the middle. It is useful for combating food waste, but it is also an easy-to-use instrument to help collaboration between potential donors and people who need these services.”
The ShareFood app is aimed at legal persons: on the one hand, potential food donors, companies, and on the other, public institutions, NGOs or parishes that can distribute the food directly to beneficiaries. The creators of the application are two experts from Cluj, who wanted to get involved more deeply after they volunteered to cook as part of the project One Hot Meal. Today, almost two months away from the launch, the ShareFood app is available everywhere in the country, and already has dozens of active accounts, both of the donors and of the beneficiaries.