Jozef Miker: Those who care about the homeless in the Czech Republic are bringing them food for free
A gentleman approached me recently, he must have been about 75 or 80, and said to me: "Young man, I'm not a homeless person, I'm a pensioner. However, once I've paid my bills I just have enough money left for one meal a day."
We took him along with us and asked where he lived so we could bring him food if he might not be able to come to us next time. The free food movement is not an official institution or organization - it's just individuals who are not indifferent to people living on the streets, or in residential hotels, or in situations where it is difficult for them to get out.
These people cook food and distribute it, aid people with getting clothing and hygiene products - and they pay for it all out of their own pockets. It began six years ago and the absolutely first person to organize it in our area was my good friend Jiří Chmelík, a teacher at a primary school in Teplice whom I sometimes joined if he needed assistance.
Gradually we became neighbors and joined forces - we began to meet regularly and cooked together in his kitchen. We bought bread and prepared cabbage soup or potato soup, and in winter we handed out tea.
Over time others joined us, and not just students and youth. We connected with Karel Karika in Ústí nad Labem, Jiří Gunár in Žatec, and Emil Voráč in Chodov, different acquaintances of ours got involved.
Coats for winter and food
On Wednesdays we cook in Teplice and on Sundays we cook in Most and in Ústí nad Labem. On Saturdays we deliver in Litoměřice, where several pub owners have agreed to put together their leftovers and donate them to the homeless.
In Litvínov our friend Alex, from the Janov housing estate, is working on this - he is a chef who works in England. He is aided by guys from the Chanov housing estate.
We want to start the free food distribution now in Chomutov and Žatec. In Teplice and in Ústí nad Labem about 30 people come for the food, both regulars whom we know and new people we've never seen before.
Each of these people has his own difficulties and his own story. Some of them have failed because of their alcohol and drug use, most of them until they ended up living on the street.
However, it's not just homeless people who come - it's also pensioners and residential hotel tenants, people from the shelters. It's alsp not just about groceries to cook with - sometimes I get baby formula and deliver it to the residential hotels.
We share the supplies with Karika, who knows about the needy in Ústí nad Labem. We are also collecting clothing, hygiene supplies, and empty pickle jars that people can use to take cooked food away with them if it doesn't all get distributed on the spot.
Once we got old blankets, mattresses and sleeping bags from a warehouse that was closing. Those are necessary mainly in the winter, which is the most difficult season for homeless people.
Once when we were cooking at the train station in Teplice, a guy named Marek came for a meal. He said he used to have a big woodworking shop in the house where he and his mother lived.
When she passed away, he said his sisters came to visit, and because they knew he was avoiding alcohol, they brought some, got him drunk, and had him sign a statement in which he gave up his inheritance. He says he doesn't even know what he signed.
His brothers-in-law then threw him out of the house, he lost his woodworking shop, and he ended up on the street. It took a long time, but eventually we managed to at least get him into a residential hotel and eventually to find him a job in his field.
Marek keeps coming to see us, and he told me that once he gets his first paycheck, he will join us and aid others. That warmed my heart.
The same goes for the elderly gentleman, the pensioner, who thanks to us eats more than one meal a day now. That's the meaning this has for me - if you see that people who have worked their entire lives don't have enough money left over for food after they pay their bills (and some of them are also under collections proceedings, because they allowed themselves to fall into the clutches of some real "dogs", or they've been tripped up by their own families), then our aid to them is enormous.
Jiří Chmelík, who began this all a while back, keeps inspiring me. After teaching school he works a shift in a factory so he can aid these people, because serving this much food costs something - so I said to myself that if he can do it, why can't I help out too?
First published in Romano voďi [Romani Soul] magazine.
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