The secret ingredient of humanity

For three generations they have cooked the best patatas bravas in Madrid, but it has been Raúl Cabrera who has perfected the sauce of the Docamar bar with a new ingredient. Solidarity. He says that you have to give back to the neighbourhood what the neighbourhood gives you. Six decades ago they settled in Quintana and in April 2020, while the president of the Community of Madrid, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, offered more than 11,000 children at risk of exclusion pizzas, hamburgers, fried chicken balls, pasta, salad and sandwiches, Raúl put a message in the WhatsApp group of the 40 workers of the bar. He proposed to reopen the business during the confinement and cook for those who had lost their jobs and could not take care of the food in their homes.

Meeting with Islam in a pantry of Carabanchel Alto

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“They were families who had never been able to save and were living on the edge,” recalls Raúl, 52, who grew up in the El Batán neighbourhood, studied statistics and mathematics at university and, against all odds, ended up in the catering trade and prolonging the success of the family’s patatas bravas. One of the neighbours who received one of the 70 menus he handed out every day had just lost her clothing business to the pandemic. “She told me she was eating like never before. It wasn’t ranch, it was quality food. It wasn’t bad fried food, it was balanced food,” she says. Ana Martinez, president of the neighborhood association of Quintana, confirms that it was not “an apple with some lentils,” or junk food. For half a year Raúl and his companions delivered breakfast, lunch and dinner. “He put all his capital at the service of the neighbourhood, including his staff,” says Martínez.

When the neighbourhood association of Quintana opened the solidarity pantry in April, they received a message from the owner of Docamar. He proposed to collaborate with their meals, their kitchen and their staff. He didn’t even want the ingredients, he preferred to have the raw materials he usually worked with. Ana was delighted and immediately contacted the District Council of Ciudad Lineal. She called Social Services and they replied that “no way” they could open the bar to cook and deliver menus. “They said that this could only be done through of the catering that they had contracted. But Docamar had all the permits and guarantees, because they were already delivering food before the pandemic and had a van ready. They told me ‘absolutely not’. So I called a contact in the area of Participation, in the Madrid City Council, to unblock the situation. This person solved it in one day,” says Martínez.

Good year, bad year

A good year for associations is a bad year for associations. The community has grown stronger by strengthening the bonds of help and care between neighbours. In the year of the pandemic and the storm ‘Philomena’, the aid networks have learned to organise themselves on the spot. If masks were needed, Ana explains that a chain was organized immediately in which they were cut, sewn and distributed; if it was not possible to walk in the street, the neighbours cleared the snow. In this interminable year they have been the ones who have reacted to solve the problems. But public aid has been reduced, the bureaucratic procedures of the administrations have hindered their work and the health protocols have cancelled the neighbourhood festivals from which the income of the associations came from to pay the rents of their premises.

Ana Martínez has been involved in the neighbourhood movement all her life. “It’s what I like best, working with the neighbourhood. This year we have seen so much need as well as solidarity among neighbours and intransigence on the part of the organisations,” she says. She is 65 years old and worked for forty years until she retired seven years ago. He worked in a construction company and it was very difficult for him to find another job. In other words, he lost 24% of the amount he was entitled to from his retirement. He speaks of dramatic experiences that he prefers not to delve into and of the lack of political support, of councillors who did not deign to stop by the food pantries to show their solidarity. “A total disregard. They have not been up to the task,” he sums up.

The bitter experience with the administrations is forgotten when they relate what happened during those months. “It was very nice,” Raul summarizes. There were people who wrote him a letter to thank him for what he was doing for them and their families. Others never thanked him and saw it as an obligation. The businessman has not made accounts of what he has done for them.tate their solidarity. Half of the staff volunteered to participate without pay and cook for the neighbours. They worked in two shifts: on Monday they prepared the meals for three days and on Thursday for the rest. Eight people cooked, others packed and others delivered the big packages. There were families of seven people. They would start at nine in the morning and finish at six in the evening. “We would make 30 extra portions for the restaurant workers and their families, because they didn’t get the ERTE. It took them more than half a year to collect it,” says Raúl, father of two girls. Sometimes they put their famous potatoes on the menu and ended up financially rewarding the volunteers.

The menu with masks

The restaurant contacted Raquel Sanz and Alicia Solano, who had set up a chain of homemade face masks. They wanted to include them with the menus. They were about 40 people cutting, sewing and distributing them. A mostly female organization, they distributed between March and October more than 18,000 masks all over Madrid. The two of them collected the donations and distributed the ready-made masks. The material came from the Association of Hoteliers of Madrid, which gave them white cloth sheets. The Municipal Police provided the threads. The rubber bands and filters came from individuals. Raquel says that when they got together they didn’t expect to find so much support. They formed a network immediately: they photocopied the pattern and some cut the fabrics and others sewed. A laundry in San Sebastián de los Reyes washed and packaged them.

Sewing was a hobby for Raquel, until she lost her job on March 4 and decided to make her hobby a mission. They created a strong bond between people who didn’t know each other. They were old people and young people, single people and family. “We are very human. We have done whatever it took to help each other,” says Raquel as she takes stock of the experience. “We didn’t know we could help each other so much and that we wanted to help each other so much. The humanity has surprised me the most. You can change so much with so little. I have enjoyed helping others so much that it has changed my life: I no longer want to be the best financial director. I aspire to other things. Now I’m doing more sewing than finance,” she says.

“It had to be done.” Ana Martinez says there was no other possibility but to help each other. They didn’t close even for holidays, “it was a real struggle”. The association lleva has been active since 1977, when it could be legalized. But this year people appeared to collaborate that they did not know. When the contributions went down they went to the doors of supermarkets to ask for donations. “The English Court of Virgen de Sagrario did not let us stand at the door. Mercadona and Ahorra Más, either,” she says in disgust. Humanity returns to her words. That of the neighbors who have reacted and solved the problems of others, of all.

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