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New Food For Life Facility Opens in Budapest, Hungary
A new ISKCON Food for Life facility supported by the municipality of Budapest’s 7th District opened on November 12th in the Hungarian capital city to a positive reception.
The new facility is a government-owned humanitarian charity center which will also be home to a rehabilitation club and dayroom for youth in the future. Devotees are currently serving 400 plates of sanctified vegetarian food from it per day to people in one of the city’s poorest areas.
A deputy from the municipality, as well as several representatives from its council who had worked with Food for Life on the project, attended the facility’s opening along with Food for Life representative Gandharvika Prema Dasi.
Inaugural speeches preceded the ceremonial cutting of a ribbon in the colors of the Hungarian flag, before prasadam samples were served out. Contributing partners on the project were pleased with the new facility, as was the media—articles were published in several prominent newspapers as well as on the government’s website.
Food for Life has been functioning in Budapest since 1989 and was officially registered as a charity in 1999. Before the new facility, it has run two main programs. The first is an outdoor food distribution service in downtown Budapest. Open to anyone who feels hungry, it serves 500 plates of prasadam per day.
The second effort, started in 2008, is a family-care program that distributes 600 plates per day in the 3rd district of Budapest.
“Cooperating with the municipality, we tried to find families that have serious financial problems that they are not able to solve by themselves,” says Gandharvika Prema. “By providing lunch for the whole family, we can save them the money they need to purchase diapers, medicine, and textbooks for their children, or to pay their overheads.”
The program became so successful that everyone in the 3rd district seemed to know a neighbor or relative whom “the Hare Krishnas” had helped.
Its fame reached the ears of a member of the 7th district’s municipal council, who began arranging for Food for Life to run the same family-care program in her district.
“The 7th district of Budapest suffers from other problems than the 3rd one,” Gandharvika Prema says. “The inhabitants are mainly elderly people who live alone in their huge flats. Their pensions are so small that they can hardly pay their expenses. Usually they cannot even heat their flats in the winter.”
As well as being good for their health, Food for Life helps these people to regain their normal lives and a minimum living standard.
Prepared for the Hungarian palate, the prasadam includes bean and lentil soups, vegetable dishes made with cabbage, carrot, potatoes and spinach, bread, fruit and yoghurt. A favorite—particularly with school children—is cabbage in tomato sauce, a typical Hungarian dish.
The new government-owned facility for Food for Life in the 7th district is only a distribution center, not a kitchen, so devotees cook at a huge kitchen at the Budapest temple.
Every morning, they prepare about five hundred liters of prasadam, which they transfer to stainless steel food containers that keep it hot. At 11am, two vans leave to distribute the food: one goes to two locations in the 3rd district, while the other goes to the 7th district and then downtown. Altogether, 1,500 plates of food are distributed from Monday to Friday.
During Christmas time, devotees serve not only hot meals but also support-packs of long-lasting foods such as flour, oil, pasta, canned corn, and sugar.
The staff include twelve initiated devotees, and three needy people who came for food every day and then began giving back by helping with the project. A further ten to fifteen volunteers help during the actual distribution of the food.
“The project involves many volunteers who come from different platforms of society,” says Gandharvika Prema. “Here they work hand in hand for a noble goal. They become very caring for other people and are freed from stereotypes about the needy.”
The program also creates a good social caring network for the needy themselves. Every day, people meet at the new humanitarian charity center where the prasadam is distributed, connect with each other, form friendships and help each other in different ways, such as by taking food to those who are sick.
Gandharvika Prema calls the program a sustainable eco-system that turns a supported person into a self-supporter.
“Most people are very appreciative of it,” she says. “For some, it helps them really integrate into the society, find a job and so on. And old people like us because they get so much love, care and attention from us.”
Food for Life have countless examples of grateful “customers.”
For one elderly man, whose pension is so small it barely pays for anything, Food for Life provide his only meals—he eats nothing but prasadam.
One eighty-four-year-old lady can hardly walk, but she still comes down the hill from her house to eat Food for Life every day.
“When she gets sick, we usually turn into meals-on-wheels and take the food to her home,” says Gandharvika Prema. “She just loves us!”
Some people go through extraordinary transformations through eating prasadam.
“One old lady would come every day, for over two years, to help in our food distribution,” Gandharvika Prema recalls. “She started to chant and read the Bhagavad-gita. Then one day, she stumbled and fell, and couldn’t walk anymore. She was just lying in bed, chanting and waiting for death. She had a small plaster statue of Krishna next to her bed, and she said: ‘He is so cute, so beautiful. I just love Him.’ Before dying she instructed her daughter: ‘Continue what I started by going to the food distribution every day, and give love to God.’”
Motivated by how much their work helps people, Food for Life Budapest plan to contact other municipalities in the future and to expand their efforts further.
It’s a noble endeavor that will no doubt be blessed by the Lord.
“I felt inspired to thank you for your services in FFL and also thank the other devotees involved,” ISKCON’s GBC for Hungary, Sivarama Swami, recently wrote to Gandharvika Prema. “You should know how important this work of feeding our countrymen is and will be as the economic situation worsens. Please continue this service and expand it as you can. No doubt Krishna will help you and also bless you.”
Gandharvika Prema Dasi speaks at the launch of Food for Life's new facility in Budapest
People line up with their containers to receive prasadam
Volunteers serve prasadam
By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News