Untold Stories

Dragon heroes: the Lavapiés lockdown food bank helping vulnerable migrant families

8 April 2020

As Madrid remains the European epicentre of the coronavirus crisis, the city’s most marginalised groups have been pushed even closer to the edge. Once dependent on charities and local organisations, many migrants are suddenly fending for themselves, but not if the Lavapiés Dragons have anything to do with it.

An elderly couple, each carrying a wheelie suitcase, knock at the door of Dragones de Lavapiés and ask for food. “What’s your address?” asks Sanaa in Arabic, a volunteer at the food bank. The couple dance around the question, and Sanaa asks “Are you sleeping on the street?”. The man replies, “Yes”.

There are many undocumented migrants that aren’t on anybody’s list. We help them, we bring them food.

… explains Jorge Bolaños, the lead organiser of a brand-new food bank in Lavapiés. It’s as simple as that, and Jorge is cheerful.

He feels for the light switch so that he can show me all the fresh vegetables, tins, dried pulses, oil and pasta his group of volunteers have just collected.

Until mid-March, this 12m² storage unit was the Dragones de Lavapiés HQ, a football club for the children of migrant families living in Lavapiés, many of whom are at risk of social exclusion. You may have seen them playing football on Calle de Embajadores in an abandoned plot. They reclaimed it with the help of the Madrid City Council, and converted it into a football pitch for the children to play in.

Chatting to Jorge, keeping one metre distance, Sanaa and Jessi, each wearing gloves and a face mask, create food parcels ready to be delivered. Their children play in the football club, and while they stay at home, Sanaa and Jessi are here, helping wherever they can.

From left to right, Sanaa, Jessi and Jorge, who is blind.

Social services have started recommending us to people, and we’ve started delivering food to other neighbourhoods too. We regularly help manteros, who often live 15 or 16 people in one apartment.

Only last week, the newly reorganised Dragons had just enough food to feed around 120 people, but Jorge explains that as word is getting around, local neighbours are overwhelmingly eager to help. Monetary donations have surged, coming in at almost €10,000, and food donated at drop-off points around Lavapiés have been flooding in.

Through these financial donations, they’re able to give families €30 food vouchers to spend in local vegetable shops, butchers and bakeries in Lavapiés.

Local associations such as Esta Es Una Plaza, Comerciantes de Lavapiés and Asociación Vecinos la Corrala have also got involved, and as Jorge reels off more and more Lavapiés organisations helping, I feel more and more optimistic.

But police have been known to fine organisations attempting to help, and it’s why many have had to cease their activity. Jorge mentions that the police have been in and looked around, but simply asked them to keep social distancing. To Jorge, this is all the approval he needs to carry on doing what is so necessary during this time.

I asked him if he had heard about Mohammed Abul Hossain, the restaurant manager of Morharaj, who had tragically died the day before from Covid-19 complications.

He’s a friend of a friend. It’s not uncommon, the language problem. Many of the people we work with don’t speak Spanish, but we have volunteer interpreters for Bangla and Wolof and French who try and help where they can.

More people begin knocking on the door, including extra volunteers, so I wave my goodbyes to the team and let them get on. But as I walk away, I turn around and spot the elderly Moroccan man reaching his arm through the fence next door to the Dragones food bank. It’s their belongings, tied up in blankets and plastic bags, which they appear to have hauled with them to the food bank.

I wonder if they hoped this would be their final stop, for now. And I hope, with the connections Jorge has, that it is. But we can hope forever – action is what this elderly Moroccan couple need.

I thank Jorge and his team of volunteers for what they’re doing, but he won’t accept my praise…

If we weren’t helping, someone else would be. This is Lavapiés, this is what we do, who we are. We look after each other.

He’s right.

INFO

  • To drop off food, diapers and hygiene products, visit:
  • Donate money directly to CDE Dragones de Lavapiés ES9000730100510503058640
  • To volunteer, send Jorge a WhatsApp message or call +34 695 973 652
  • Stay up to date with Dragones de Lavapiés on Facebook, Twitter and their website

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