Last weekend, I met a homeless Indian man in Barcelona. He was bedded down with several other street companions in an ATM cubicle on Parallel. He thanked us for the food and jumpers in heavily accented but perfect English. He was from Delhi.
Another night we came across an attractive lady with a very cultured English accent who had attended art school in London. The streets are also full of middle aged working and middle class people, who have lost their homes to repossession. They’re desperately trying to maintain their dignity, and are often shy and slow to ask for things, only coming forward when it’s offered.
We were out as part of the efforts of Esperanca, a group started by some like-minded women who make sandwiches and soup for the homeless, and distribute it to them once or twice a week.
The group started in October, and has grown to 176 members with two groups who cover the Raval and the area around Estacio del Nord. Volunteers cook soup, make sandwiches and buy or donate warm clothing. Along these walks, we’ve discovered a few things:
- Having nothing doesn’t make people greedy: People frequently decline our offers of food or clothes. They’ve got a jumper and just eaten a sandwich. It’s enough for them.
- They share: Volunteers once watched a man take his cup of soup over to sleeping friend and hand it to him. He didn’t come back and ask for another for himself, but was thrilled when they offered him another.
- Soap and other toiletries are in high demand: Faces light up when you ask them if they’d like a bar of soap or a tooth brush and some toothpaste.
- There are other groups of friends doing this in the city. Food for smile is one such group (mostly Spanish speaking) who go out distributing food five days a week.
- Walking around the city for a couple of hours is a surprisingly social activity and a great way to catch up with old friends or meet new friends. A little recovery vino at the end of the walk also helps.
The beauty of Esperanca is its emphasis on action. There were no meetings held, no committees formed, no over-thinking of the situation. A few women made some sandwiches, loaded up the granny trolleys and went out on to the streets.
If you’d like to get involved, there are many things you can do:
- Donate clothes: Any old warm clothes, socks, gloves, hats and jackets (all for men). Any unwanted blankets or sleeping bags.
- The next time you’re buying something at a clothing store or Decathlon, add in a pair of man size gloves or socks (1.50 – 2 Euros) to your shopping lot. It’s a donation with a small price and a big impact.
- Donate or better still make the food for one night. It costs around 10 Euros to make almost 27-30 little sandwiches, and around 5 Euros to make the soup.
- If you can’t afford to donate money how about helping with your time? The walks all last about 2 hours starting at 20:00 and are currently on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Newcomers are most welcome.