Cristmas Love Feast: Thousands of families rely on help in the present times of crisis
Food for Life Hungary, the humanitarian aid arm of the Krishna-conscious believers has organised food distribution events in Hungary on a daily basis for the last thirty years. Although the present difficult economic situation affects the content of aid parcels and the number of portions is also affected, the Hare Krishnas do not give up and will organise the Grand Christmas Love Feast this festive season as well.
Every charity and social care organisation faces a challenge by the energy crisis and food inflation. According to the report of the National Bank of Hungary, the price increases of food items has not reached its peak yet. The aid organisations are struggling as although people continue to want to donate, their capacity is dwindling. This is also shown by the results of the largest food collection initiative in Hungary. Those who continue to donate in spite of the difficulties deserve the greatest respect.
„The Christmas Love Feast has a message. Stopping organising it would mean that we give in to the difficulties and give up our duty. Is there a crisis? Well, it is one more reason to find the means and go ahead with the festive distribution against all odds!– says Attila Szanyi-Karl, Bhakta Vatsala das, Hare Krishna pastor and the chairman of the Food for Life Foundation.
The food distribution organisation distributies a daily amount of 3000 food plates for the needy large families, the elderly, the jobless and the sick in Hungary. The need is going to mount. An increasing number of people in the queue are those who still have an income, can still pay for their bills, but after having paid for the utilities, medicines, the rent, they are left without means to buy enough food for their families.
The Food for Life programme played an important role during the COVID pandemic in helping people who suddenly lost their livelihood and now, at the time of the conflict in Ukraine, they have played a key role in feeding the refugees from Ukraine. They also help the food programme of the Hare Krishnas in Ukraine, by sending foodstuffs to the parts of Ukraine bordering Hungary from where the devotees further the cooking ingredients to other parts of Ukraine.
From the autumn of 2022 the energy and food crises started to bite. The hiking prices represent a huge challenge for the aid services. For instance, Food for Life alone has had to pay 5 million HUF more just for petrol for the trucks. However, saving foodstuffs from being discarded and distributing the prepared food is impossible without trucks. Although they cook in their large scale kitchen for needy people, the foundation cannot avail of the capped prices reserved for individual citizens, theu have to pay the inflated prices for the flour or cooking oil used. Some of the ingredients underwent a price hike of over 100 oer cent during the last few months. Sour cream, which is an important ingredient of Hungarian style pottages, has become a luxury by now and can be used exclusively because of the kindness of donors. It must be mentioned also, that some enterprises that used to assist FFL in the past have gone out of business because of the crisis and can no longer support food distribution.
As the foundation is performing a public service, it can avail of normative government subsidy which is HUF 272 per portion. Even in a large scale, efficient kitchen, the ingredients for a portion of cooked food requires at least double that amount, HUF 550-600. The add-ons to the plate of cooked food like bakery items, raw vegetables, fruit and the like come from supermarkets where items near the end of their shelf life are donated to charities. This resuce of food is also important from the point of view of environment protection, however sorting, transporting and storing them required additional resources. The charity has to find the means to buy the cooking ingredients going into the Christmas aid parcel itself. In this respect, the monies coming from the 1 per cent allocation of the Personal Income Tax play a key role.
„We had to completely reconsider the food parcel distribution during the festive season. We can only purchase the so-called capped price ingredients at full market price, therefore this year we will incluode other useful and healthy items in the parcel. We are very thankful to some of our donors who offer large quantities of basic ingredients or delicacies. Financial contributions are also very helpful!” – says the chairman of the foundation.
The special food distribution events this year will be December 3rd at Óbuda, december 17th in Eger and 24 through 26 December in Népliget, Budapest. In total, we will distribute about 6000 portions of cooked food and 4500 parcels among the needy.
„We will again spend our time at Christmas in the People’s Wood (Népliget) near the Planetarium building. As the long distance bus terminal is near, this location makes our distribution easily accessible also for those needy who are coming from outside Budapest” – emphasises Péterné Szilaj, Gandharvika Prema, the spokesperson of the Krishna-conscious believers. „We understand from the many messages asking for help that there is a surge of people who still have a kind of basic livelihood, but they need our help, especially in the countryside. For instance, our branch at Eger receives a flood of people asking for aid. A szégyenérzeten sürgősen felül kell emelkedni. Natural shame should be quickly set aside when trouble comes and one should immediately contact the aid organisations or come to a point of contact. In such a crisis, only large scale solidarity can help. And if you meet a person who needs help, please direct them to our Christmas food distribution so that they know that they can rely on us this year as well as always.”
We know that however great feeling it is, helping others requires some renunciation. Let us remember that the price of a family outing to the cinema may help out a family of 4 at Christmas time. Our filosophy comes from an ancient Hungarian motto: Where two can eat heartily, a third one can also eat.”