The scene has been happening daily for just over two months. In the late afternoon, a few volunteers set up a long table in some arcades of the Blas de Otero square, located in the Egia neighbourhood of Donostia, and young people - most of them foreigners – walk through to receive some food lids, bread, fruit, milk and some sweets. These boys live on the street and would not have anything to eat if it wasn't for this initiative, whose protagonists share it with NOTICIAS DE GIPUZKOA.
It was in November of last year when residents of the Old Town, when they saw several people sleeping in the Plaza de la Constitución, decided to cook a dish every night at home, take it down to the plaza and offer it to the homeless. The group of people to care for grew and the residents of the Old Town got in contact with a neighbourhood group in Egia to create another place there where dinner could be served to these people.
"As a result of the eviction from Hell, many people were left without a place to stay and neighbours from the Old Town began to see that they were spending the night in the Consti, so they began to voluntarily come down to give them a plate of hot food. It coincided with a very cold weather period. At the beginning they served eight or nine people, the group grew larger and from there they suggested that we created another group in Egia" says Ixiar, one of the volunteers who started the initiative.
Several of the people now linked to this project of offering dinners to the homeless had already gathered during the lockdown to "help the elderly" in tasks such as "grocery shopping and bringing it home": "That's why they called us from the Old Town and we started to form this group to prepare dinners ", explains Sara.
Around 40 residents of Egia keep this initiative alive, which currently gives dinner every day to no less than 40 or 45 homeless people. "Every day there are two cooks, each one cooks for about 20 people. And then there are more people who are here picking up the bread, making the distribution, organising... Cooking for so many people is expensive in terms of time, because you need to make several batches of food and you can spend several hours cooking" they explain. On the day that this newspaper accompanied the volunteers, it was Edurne and Nora's turn, two other neighbours, to make dinner: macaroni with meat. They had left the meat with tomato prepared the day before and that same afternoon they cooked the pasta. They took it down in two large pots to the local SOS Racismo and there they began to distribute it in lunch boxes. To each bag they added fruit, a hard-boiled egg, a yogurt and bread that the bakery The Loaf gives them every day, free of charge. Sometimes harira soup is added, which is cooked at the Herrera mosque every day "for more than 200 people" and a volunteer, Wadie, distributes around the city to the homeless.
In addition to the investment in terms of time each day, from Monday to Sunday, delivering these dinners involves an economic cost assumed by these Egia residents. "We do it with our money and what we can raise" says Ixiar. In this sense, the initiative has united the neighbourhood in some way. There are neighbours who give them money, in several catering establishments there are boxes in which any client can leave a few coins and they want to involve neighbourhood schools, ikastolas and other businesses: "There are a couple of pharmacies that are interested in collaborating and it will be possible to contribute money there too. It is very nice that it is a neighbourhood initiative, local, close, very real. Being something as basic as preparing a dinner seems beautiful to us", point out Ixiar and Sara.
The profile of the people who come to the Blas de Otero square every evening is varied. There are "Men that are 50 or 55 years old, who have been on the streets for a long time, but mainly they are young immigrants, many from Morocco, who have arrived here with nothing and see themselves on the street and without papers, and the reality is that they don't have anything to eat, " says Sara. "Most kids arrive without knowing what reality they are going to find. From what they think in their country of origin to what they find later... they are the ones who have managed to reach Europe and believe that they are going to get to work and be able to send money home, but it turns out that they cannot work because they do not have permits, residence or registration. They are boys of 17, 18 or 19 years old" adds Ixiar.
The same young people who these days appear on the news for trying to enter Ceuta and Melilla or those who try to swim across the Bidasoa river - on Saturday with fatal consequences for one of them- are the ones who come to receive a hot meal in this square in Egia. "Associations such as SOS Racismo and the Citizen Reception Network or social services try to direct them, but they arrive here with nothing", Ixiar points out: "The City Council has some resources, but to be able to access them you have to meet conditions such as having a registration of residency. And the reality is that, for one reason or another, there are people who are not registered". Sara regrets that all these guys before "at least had a place to stay in Hell. It's not that it was the solution, but evicting them like they did last year isn't either. They need what we all need: a roof and food. And if this is not given to them, what are we doing as a society? ".
Sara and Ixiar do not deny that young Moroccans they serve can sometimes create "conflicts". "These conflicts are real, but it is not the general rule. Here too, sometimes, not every day, there are disrespectful behaviours, but here anyone can have a bad day. It is difficult to be well in that situation, we understand them," Sara explains. "You have to put yourself in the shoes of these people, the street wears a lot", adds Ixiar. "They have no roots in anything. To what, to the street? You stop being where you were from, you are not from here ... every day on the street must be hard. Is impossible not to lose your head".
In fact, these Egia neighbours point out that the people who come to receive the dinners have a "cooperative attitude and are grateful for the food": "They are on the street, but they are just as capable as anyone. They would like to have the opportunities that we have", they comment: "They try to make their own way because they arrive here and have to start from scratch: registration of residency, access to some help, accommodation ... some come with studies and try to homologate them here or try to get a training for a profession. But it is not easy and the situation wears them down. In the last few days a couple of people told us they wanted to go, one to Murcia and the other to Lleida, because there is no work here. They asked us to help them catch the bus. the majority: they arrive here, they see that there is no work and they move to other cities ". Sara also points out that "these are not people who want to live off social resources, but rather work and send money home."
With those who have been going to dinner every day for longer, they begin to establish a relationship: "We talk more and more with them and also with each other, the people of the neighbourhood. A bond is being created. Through that hot food we generate a little human heat, right? ", says Sara, who insists that society should make an effort" to put itself in the shoes of these people": "It is easier to give than to receive. It can cost us more or less doing what we do, but we come from our house and we do it because we want to and can. And they come to receive a bag of food because they don't have anything else. It's hard for me to think how I would be on the other side of the table, how I would feel, how hard it would be".
The work done by these residents of Egia and also in the Old Town is complemented by the work of NGOs such as the Food Bank, Cáritas, SOS Racismo or the Citizen Reception Network, which weekly "distribute bags of food to about 60 people". "Initiatives at the local scale already exist, and thank goodness", they indicate, ensuring that they will continue to carry out this work "with enthusiasm, hope and strength because it is necessary." Of course, they are clear that in the medium term it must be the City Council that "takes charge of this situation": " We respond to an emergency, and we can sustain it for a while, but the solution must be permanent and we ask the institutions to take charge. There have already been meetings with the City Council and they know that these initiatives exist. There is a need in the city for a food service for these people or for a social dining room, at the very least. And if it can help them work in any way, the better. Hopefully something will be done soon. In the meantime, we will continue here. "