Vecinas de Lavapiés are an incredible group of neighbours serving daily meals and weekly food supplies to their fellow neighbours. They’re the little sister of La Cuba, one of Lavapiés’ first Covid-19 relief food banks, and Vecinas have joined forced with Plaza Solidaria, a long-standing local association you may have spotted distributing hot food on Plaza de Tirso de Molina over the years.
I arrive at 7.30pm and the team is already sorting the food and placing it into shopping trolleys ready to be rolled out through the door. By 8pm, Fatima is giving out meals – one every few seconds – and saying “Buen proveche” with each handover.
As I stand and watch Fatima, I observe that the queue is made up almost entirely of men. Around 73% of people sleeping on the streets are men, according to Madrid City Council, which roughly matches our Lavapiés neighbours waiting in line. I leave the room and walk the length of the queue, hearing many different accents chatting away. Migrants account for around 14% of Madrid’s population, yet make up 61% of homeless people in Madrid.
Not everyone waiting for a meal is homeless, though. “I’m from Venezuela and I have the right to live and work here, but I’m not legally allowed to until January 28 next year”, says Yvis. She insists on showing me her papers, which she carries with her everywhere.
If I’m not allowed to work, how can I survive?
Yvis is a professional dog trainer and is proud of her Havanese pup, who along with Yvis’ friend who is also Venezuelan, joins her every day to collect her meal. He is in a similar situation to her, where he’s unable to find a job due to his employment status.
We get chatting and Yvis asks me the name of my blog and I translate it to Madrid Sin Lujos. She then tells me that she makes no-frills jewellery out of recycled plastic bottles. Here’s her Instagram account if you’d like to support her.
I get chatting to José (not his real name) from the Dominican Republic, who is standing at the back of the line. “I’m here for my dinner break”, he explains, along with around 200 others. With every shift of the queue, José slowly inches his bike forwards. He’s carrying a Deliveroo bag on his back and is busily arranging the next delivery on his mobile phone. “When you add it all up, I get only get about one euro for every job, so I need help to eat”.
We don’t ask questions, we just give.
…explains Jackie, an American teaching assistant involved at the Vecinas de Lavapiés food bank on Calle Argumosa.
“Right now, we receive food from World Central Kitchen Monday-Friday, and on Saturday various neighbours cook at home and bring the food. We distribute meals to about 200 people daily. Our aim is to care for people in “situación de calle” – people who are experiencing or are at risk of homelessness. Some people who receive food have lived in the streets for years, but others found themselves homeless for the first time in their lives due to the economic impacts of Covid-19″.
“We distribute food boxes to around 30 families, whenever we receive donations. We also accept donations at our space on Calle Argumosa 24. Someone is there Monday through Saturday from 7:30pm to around 9pm”.
“Being a neighbourhood support network is also important to us, so in addition to distributing food, we also want to get involved in other ways in the community, for example, campaigning to keep the public water fountains working and providing people with contacts for legal support”.
Jackie tells me that she’s here because of Madrid No Frills. During lockdown, she read about the Dragones de Lavapiés food bank and, from there, got involved in Vecinas de Lavapiés. I’m heartened to know that this blog has gone some way towards bringing fantastic people such as Jackie to the front line of this pandemic, and she encourages anyone to get involved. Here’s how:
Vecinas de Lavapiés need food, donations and collaborators.
FOOD: Yogurt, tuna and small water bottles for the daily food parcels. For weekly food boxes: fresh vegetables, dried pasta and bulk foods.
PERSONAL HYGIENE PRODUCTS: Shower gel, soap, disposable razors, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, empty mini bottles for shampoo (to be able to share it out and distribute it to more people), sanitary towels, tampons, face masks.
COLLABORATORS: Vecinas de Lavapiés especially need people with cars and people who are interested in cooking meals at home. People with cars can message on instagram or email email@example.com. Anyone interested in working shifts can join this WhatsApp group where they post requests for people to cover shifts.
LOCATION: Calle Argumosa, 24. Nearest metro: Lavapiés (L3) and Atocha (L1).