December 28, 2015
“A Hot Meal” social business was initiated in Cluj-Napoca (Romania) by a group of volunteers in 2013, coordinated by Cosmina Paul. Now, after two years, volunteers from four cities from Romania (Cluj-Napoca, Bistrita, Satu Mare and Bucharest) prepare warm meals for those in need, and almost 20,000 meals were served so far to people suffering from hunger.
Cosmina accepted to tell us the story of “A Hot Meal”, hoping to inspire others to do great things in their communities.
What is your social business idea and how do you impact your community?
“A Hot Meal” idea is simple and straightforward. It calls for people to gather and cook a hot meal for persons suffering from hunger in their community. Everyone can volunteer, no matter what values motivate them: social responsibility, religion, political views or other. And everyone can have access to a hot meal regardless of their ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, etc.
The project runs on zero administrative costs, as there are no paid directors, staff, PR or HR assistants; the project is developed and implemented by volunteers and supported by the community. Thus, the project is inclusive in all respects. The first impact is that meals are there for those who suffer from hunger. Second, we build trust in the community and empathy towards those in need; at the same time, volunteers develop great involvement in the cause. Everyone in the community can easily relate to our cause, because each of us has experienced or might experience at one moment in time hunger.
What was the biggest obstacle to overcome while developing your business?
The biggest obstacle in opening ‘A Hot Meal’ was to get access to kitchen infrastructure where volunteers can cook. According to Romanian legislation, only professional cooks are allowed to cook for general public, in authorised kitchens, for food safety reasons. First, we found authorised places where we can cook the food, and then we committed to high quality management in respecting all the cooking rules as professional cooks do, such as doing the shopping just before cooking, buying the food from authorised stores, instruct the volunteers on the hygiene rules etc. Showing all these good practices, we pursued public authorities to “tolerate” the idea that volunteers are cooking, and to even encourage and take pride of supporting the project. Most of all, they agreed with the project because they understood is a grass root initiative, supporting disadvantaged people with free meals.
What means success to you?
In a nutshell, to me success is achieved each week, when about hundreds meals are given to starving children, homeless and elderly. I dream of multiplying the project over and over again, everywhere, so when I go traveling I can stop by to give a hand to the community at their soup-kitchen. And I dream of living in a world where hungry or lonely people have the chance to show up for a free hot meal or for volunteering, because we all have the right to belong to a community. Every day we should all be able to tell each other: enjoy your meal!
Do you have any advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs?
I could talk about the key components of our project. In our grass root project, being organised is of key importance. First and foremost, a hot meal costs approximately 2 lei (0.5 euros); we cook seasonable vegetables and at the same time we cover all nutrients. Cooking time takes two hours and 3 to 5 people are needed to serve about 100 meals. Each soup-kitchen is organised according to the skills of its initiators and the urban factors: some initiators are weekly involved, others organise team-buildings for groups of people, and others call for individual volunteers. All the food costs are covered by private donations, hence, the community.
Moreover, in our vision, the business model can be easily replicated, and that has happened six times so far within our program. Across the country, ‘A Hot Meal’ soup-kitchens have been opened in Cluj-Napoca, Bucharest, Satu Mare and Bistrita, between 2013 and 2015.
Read more about „A Hot Meal“ project: