Restau­rant serves up healthy help­ings for the home­less

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Madrid

It is early evening at a restau­rant in cen­tral Madrid and Jose Silva sits down for a meal of rice, meat­balls and veg­eta­bles as wait­ers flit from one ta­ble to an­other.

All very nor­mal, ex­cept for one cru­cial de­tail: Silva, 42, can­not af­ford to pay.

He lives rough un­der the plat­form of a ca­ble car sta­tion in Madrid’s Casa del Campo park, one of dozens of home­less peo­ple who have started din­ing for free at the Robin Hood restau­rant that opened this week.

The project is the brain­child of the “Mes­sen­gers of Peace” as­so­ci­a­tion, led by An­gel Gar­cia, a 79-year-old rebel priest with a thick head of white hair and kindly smile known for his char­ity work and al­ter­na­tive church.

By day, the restau­rant charges reg­u­lar cus­tomers for break­fast and lunch with an 11-euro ($11.70) menu, sub­si­diz­ing the same meal for the home­less at night, even if the as­so­ci­a­tion will likely have to step in with some funds.

Gar­cia has plans for three more such eater­ies in Madrid and other parts of Spain, where one in five peo­ple live close to the poverty line af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing eco­nomic cri­sis.

“It’s re­ally good,” says Silva as he cuts up his meat­balls, sport­ing a “GAP” sweat­shirt he got as a hand­out — a wel­come im­prove­ment, he adds, from the cold sand­wich he usu­ally has for din­ner at the nearby Catholic church of Fa­ther An­gel, as Gar­cia is known.

Once fin­ished, he walks out of the warm eatery with its in­te­rior brick wall and chan­de­liers, back into the De­cem­ber cold.

As he leaves, others en­ter the 50-seat restau­rant, some park- ing their trol­leys in front of the bar at the en­trance be­fore sit­ting at ta­bles with white table­cloths and red nap­kins.

“It’s about giv­ing more dig­nity to the peo­ple who need it,” Gar­cia told AFP days be­fore the restau­rant open­ing, sit­ting dressed in a smart suit in his San An­ton Church in Chueca, the cap­i­tal’s gay dis­trict.

Next to him, home­less or cash-strapped men and women drink hot cof­fee and munch on pas­tries for break­fast.

They will likely come back later, when the church serves sand­wiches, soup and fruit for some 200 peo­ple ev­ery evening.

“Up un­til now, peo­ple would queue in the street to get din­ner, in the cold and rain,” says Gar­cia.

“So we asked our­selves why we couldn’t do this in a restau­rant.” And “Robin Hood” was born.

The restau­rant runs two ser­vices for the home­less, enough for 100 din­ers who come from the crowd that nor­mally gets food at the church.

The church it­self has be­come an in­sti­tu­tion since Gar­cia took over last year with the firm be­lief it should be open to any­one, from any re­li­gion.

The as­so­ci­a­tion goes far be­yond run­ning the church and new restau­rant.

Funded by a mix of dona­tions, sub­si­dies and in­come earned from some of its ven- tures, it also pro­vides hu­man­i­tar­ian aid abroad and em­ploys close to 4,000 peo­ple, with 4,200 more help­ing as vol­un­teers.


Fa­ther An­gel Gar­cia Ro­driguez chats to home­less peo­ple at the Robin Hood restau­rant.

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