A rather different mafia
A rather different mafia
The word “mafia” immediately calls to mind menacing figures engaging in shady business. The Budapest Bike Maffia has something completely different in mind.
A visit to their headquarters
In fact, the Budapest Bike Maffia is a legally operating civil organisation, whose members, namely young people in Budapest, are often on the road on their bikes. In their free time, they bring donated food to the needy, offer assistance to animal shelters, or provide help in the wake of natural disasters. In addition to their numerous other programmes, the club holds a “Vitamin Commando” meeting twice a week, during which sandwiches are made at the club headquarters on Tűzoltó Street in Budapest. On one evening in early October, we visited the organisation and actively took part in its volunteer work. The crew gradually assembled in a room on the upper floor of a craft beer pub called Élesztő Kézműves Söröző. Sometimes, 15 to 20 people show up, but on this day we were only nine taking part in the activities. The probable reason was the bad weather – volunteers are less keen to get on their bikes when it rains.
The first thing to do was to get supplies, and the Aldi supermarket two streets away came in handy. You don’t buy so much bread everyday, but after paying at the check-out, some ten kilogrammes of sliced bread was packed into a huge shopping bag. Returning to headquarters, we then set about preparing sandwiches on an industrial scale. The young men and women organisers have made a point about offering a varying, healthy, and nutritious menu: the tasty sandwiches are filled with cheese, liver spread, sausage, lettuce, onions, and green peppers. There was a clear separation of labour in our small team of volunteers – while one person cut the cheese, another washed the lettuce. The homeless recipients each receive a single-person portion, consisting of two sandwiches made of whole bread slices packed in plastic wrap. A relaxed and cheerful atmosphere prevailed during the work. We chatted, fooled around, and helped ourselves to a glass of wine spritzer or beer.
Then we quickly took a group photo of all the volunteers before the Maffia members took to their bikes in their role of alternative pizza couriers, instead delivering food “door to door” to people in need, most without a door to call their own. This time we were only distributing food, but sometime the volunteers also provide the homeless with thermal mats and blankets. Our first stop was the underpass of the nearby Corvin district subway station. One of the homeless people here has not lived on the street for very long – she used to have work and a roof over her head. We found her extremely depressed and we also tried to offer her some emotional consolation. Another two men here were given sandwiches and they even posed for a photo. After the Corvin subway station, the bicyclists of the Budapest Bike Maffia continued on their tour, providing homeless people in other parts of the city with tasty sandwiches.
The organisation is housed in one of the so-called “ruin bars” typical of Budapest. Here, we chatted over a beer with Zoltán Havasi, the spiritual father of the Budapest Bike Maffia, about the history and goals of the organisation. In 2011, he set up the Facebook page of the group and asked his friends whether they would be willing to donate to the homeless of Budapest during the Christmas holidays and spend Christmas with them. The idea for the club’s catchy name, which also appeals to young people, was likewise thought up by Zoltán. The name was paired with this special aid programme, which, at the time, was unique in the world. It has since served as a paradigm for many similar organisations active in other Hungarian cities and abroad, such as in Colombia, while various countries have shown a great interest in the model. The organisation intentionally chose the word “maffia,” which generally has negative connotations, in order to link it with something positive. In addition, the name alludes to the familial cohesion of the organisation.
The volunteers have two main objectives in mind: On the one hand, they hope to make life a little bit easier for needy individuals and animals, and on the other hand, they want to involve young people of various ages. This way, they can better empathise with the fate of those who live on the street, become more compassionate, and willingly engage in voluntary work. And to top it all off, the efforts of the organisers have resulted in the formation of a fantastic team and a great community.
Achievements up to now
The club today consists of 30 to 40 active members, who manage a total of 11 projects.
Within the framework of the “+1 Szendvics” project, students have been asked to occasionally bring an extra sandwich to school for lunch. The extra food is collected by the club and brought to day and night shelters for homeless people. This programme has since become so successful that a total of around 2000 sandwiches are now collected each week from the 21 participating schools. If the project continues at this rate, Zoltán Havasi thinks that within two months’ time it can provide up to 20 percent of the homeless in Budapest with food.
Furthermore, the members of the Budapest Bike Maffia regularly visit animal shelters, where they also deliver meals, such as dog food. In addition, they also walk the dogs, which are kept in the shelter kennels. As part of another programme, the organisation recently donated a bicycle to the northern Hungarian village of Szendrő. The proud new owner is a father of six, who until recently had to walk 12 kilometres to work each day. Now he can ride. The Budapest Bike Maffia has already been awarded four times for its commitment. In 2015, for example, it was selected as Hungary’s volunteer programme of the year.