Founded in 2011 by a group of young cycling enthusiasts, Budapest Bike Maffia (BBM) calls itself “a philanthropic organisation on wheels”. The initiative is among Hungary’s fastest-growing charities, with committed volunteers now numbering over 100.
Each year, the BBM team heads out on bikes to distribute over 100,000 meals to Budapest’s homeless population, in addition to running an array of creative projects. These include the BBM 50! initiative, which seeks to shift prevalent negative attitudes towards the homeless community and increase empathy from the general public, and Sweet Home, which has the goal of improving council housing to create a comfortable, homely environment for local families.
“At the start, our motivation was a feeling of anger. Anger is a gift when used for good,” Zoltán Havasi, founder of Budapest Bike Maffia, tells Culture Trip. “We felt that the life stories we heard on the street should not end there.” Beyond the fact of homelessness, Havasi explains that the group’s sadness and frustration were born of public attitudes towards homeless people in Budapest. “We were angry because of the senseless prejudice against homeless people, the labelling and the huge social apathy.”
According to Havasi, the initial goal was to “quickly help homeless people living on the street”, but that the team always knew that, in the long run, the aim would be to “make people more sensitive to the issue, and to teach as many people as possible how to help”.
BBM has big plans for the future, which centre around “creating social enterprises where homeless people can work, gain skills and develop their aspirations”, says Havasi. More specifically, he explains that within five years, the organisation would like to see “employment introduced in every homeless shelter”.
In addition to work, Havasi places emphasis on community and social development, describing how BBM aims to “create spaces where homeless people can socialise, play sports and where people who are no longer integrated into society can live their lives with dignity”.
Put your bike to good use in Budapest by joining one of BBM’s missions. Ildi Tóth, BBM’s international communication officer, says that the organisation’s most popular initiative is the Vitamin Commando project, which sees volunteers cycle around town distributing food and other supplies such as blankets and coats. She explains that anyone can take part in Vitamin Commando, which runs on Mondays and Thursdays at 6.15pm from BBM’s base.