O Masa Calda – Everyone Deserves a Hot Meal
O masa calda (Romanian for “A hot meal”) started out as the initiative of a small group of volunteers with a very simple credo – “everybody deserves a hot meal”.
As most beginnings, the beginnings of O masa calda were quite modest. A few volunteers gathered around the initiator of the movement, Cosmina Paul, and decided to cook 50 hot meals at the cantina offered by the mayor’s office in the city of Cluj-Napoca. The meals were then given to people in need, who did not go to sleep with an empty stomach that day. The volunteers continued their activities weekly, offering 50 hot meals to anyone who needed one.
The initiative proved to be so successful that a second team opened a second kitchen. If the first team was centered around the Political, Administrative and Communication Science Faculty of the Babes Bolyai University, the second team included medical staff, who were aware of many people in difficult situations, people who badly needed that one meal.
As the news spread, so did the support of the community. In just a matter of years, several kitchens were opened all around the country – Bucharest, Constanta, Satu Mare, Zalau, etc. Sometimes jumping through the hoops of local regulations, the enthusiastic volunteers managed to offer almost 150,000 hot meals, relying exclusively on donations and people offering their time and energy. The movement was also registered legally as an NGO, allowing a better management of resources, while still maintaining the initial enthusiasm, as Cosmina Paul describes it:
“I know all of it works only because there are a lot of good, helpful, religious or simply compassionate people who are willing to do something, to donate for their neighbor, as long as they get transparency, honesty and intelligence back”.
The food is prepared by volunteers and served either once a week or even daily in some cases. The beneficiaries are school children from poor areas who maybe get their only hot meal for the day, homeless people, people with various handicaps of afflictions, or the elderly, many of whom no longer have anyone to support them. The volunteers are very different themselves, coming from all walks of life and having all sorts of convictions – corporate employees, priests, students, teachers, medical staff and police officers. They put their best effort into cooking good meals for those in need, which always include meat, vegetables and carbohydrates, all too necessary for physical effort or for facing the cold weather outside.
The movement has expanded, allowing the entire community to participate. Anyone can donate food. Many individuals and companies already do so regularly. Moreover, companies can organize their team buildings with O masa calda. Small teams of employees bond over pans and stoves day after day. In fact, these team buildings have become so popular that one should book months ahead to make sure the kitchen is free!
In 2018, volunteers also created the app ShareFood, available for Android, which allows people to donate food rather than waste it. The last years saw a massive expansion of the movement – bigger teams, bigger kitchens and funding for supporting the initiative. In order to support all of it, O masa calda has applied for a series of grants and is also looking into expanding as a social business. The next years are sure to be exciting. Until then, anyone is welcome to support the initiative and help provide both dignity and stability to people in great need of both. As Simona Gavrila, the representative of O masa calda Statu Mare sums it up:
“As long as there are people in need of food, there will be people to feed them. The beneficiaries know they receive attention, care, and a drop of love with every serving of food. It’s clear they appreciate all of it.”