For many years now twice a week Noémi Poós is spending her evenings with the Vitamin Commando team, be it summer or winter, rain or shine. She is the project’s leader, one of our most reliable and most important volunteers. We have asked her how it all started and how it feels to work with the Commando twice a week. We also reveal whether it is possible to volunteer at Bike Maffia without a bike.

Noémi, it is fair to say that as project manager for the Vitamin Commando you are an almost indispensable member of the Budapest Bike Maffia staff. How did you come across this project, and what exactly are you doing, how does the Vitamin Commando work?

I have been keeping an eye on the work of BBM through social networking sites for some time. I have always had the desire to help those in need in some way, but like many others: I couldn’t really do, wouldn’t really dare to do it alone. Then finally in October 2015, I have grabbed two blankets and went to my first Vitamin Commando event. I didn’t know anyone there but the community was very inclusive, so I have become addicted pretty quickly. After about a year and a half of regular participation in the Commando events, i  happened to take on the organization of the project itself and i have stuck around, participatig nearly all of the events for more than four years now. Vitamin Commando is one of the most spectacular, most visible projects of Bike Maffia. It provides immediate assistance to people in need and it is the project where the most volunteers can join our work. We meet twice a week at our current base, prepare about 150-200 sandwiches which are then immediately distributed by our bikers to people on the street, to night selters and to warming shelters as well. My task is to coordinate the volunteers during sandwich making and delivery, to manage the procurement of raw materials and coordinate the use of the donations we have received.

We often say that the Vitamin Commando is the oldest project of Budapest Bike Mafia, since a similar initiative was what brought BBM to life, it was the ‘seed’ of our association. At that time it was a spontaneous thing, but Vitamin Commando then grew into a regular, well organized project. How is the team, what kind of people attend these events?

Bike Maffia has started out eight years ago with a Christmas food distribution, and grew into what they are today. The Vitamin Commando itself had its  “official” launch 5 years ago, first as a once a week thing, with a fairly regular core team. As their news spread, more and more volunteers has joined, and we have switched to a twice a week schedule. This has been working out nicely ever since, in the last four years we had maybe two events that were cancelled? We get together come rain or shine, even on natinal holidays. The team is very diverse, as the willingness to help is not tied to age, gender, occupation or nationality. There is a “core” cyclist team which is mostly composed of young guys, but to prepare the sandwiches we get older people, even some kids too who participate. The team is different each and every time. Some people come weekly, some about once a month. We have foreign students who are studying in Hungary and tourists who are just visiting for a few days.

What makes Vitamin Kommando important to you personally? What kind of experiences does it bring you?

It is safe to say that it has completely changed my life. I have joined BBM at a time of my life when i have not been feeling too good about myself. I felt stuck in the mundane routines of day-to-day life – basically just going to work – and i had no desire to leave my home otherwise. At that time, I was not even cycling in the city, afraid of the heavy traffic. So in the beginning I was just participating in sandwich making. Then I got to know the guys better and I have felt a growing urge to go with them to help distribute the food as well. Took me about half a year to go on my first ‘commando mission’ on my bike. It gave me great sense of security that we were moving as a team on our way downtown, I have learned a lot about traffic, about different routes. After about another half a year I have noticed that I am now cycling everywhere. New friendships have formed, even my weekends have started to include cycling trips – and they have been ever since. There is also the feeling that I am doing something good for others, that another afternoon have passed doing something that is actually useful – and there is an almost immediate feedback confirming this. One of the best feelings while doing food distribution is giving someone a sandwich down by an underpass and by the time I am coming back, I can see them snacking away. My opinion about homeless people has changed a lot too. We are talking to them a lot, and we get to hear a lot of different stories. Visiting a homeless shelter is also a formative experience.

An important question that we often receive: do you need to have a bike, must you know how to ride a bike if you want to join?

No, you do not need a bike! Anyone can join to just prepare sandwiches, and we also always ask our “pedestrians” if they know or have seen any homeless people to whom they wish to take some food on their way home. For their first time, we also help newcomers who may have difficulty in addressing homeless people, who do not know what to say to them. We love to talk to new volunteers about our experiences if they require it. We are trying to expel the stereotypes about homeless people, but it is best for the newcomers to experience such situations personally.

Photo by: István Juhász