Angel Castillo once worked as a restaurant cook. But after losing his job and struggling with alcoholism, he has been sleeping on the streets for most of the last 16 years. It has been a while since he has worked in a restaurant, let alone eaten at one.
Yet there he was one recent evening, among the diners who crowded into a new restaurant in Madrid. It was a simple space, with red-tiled walls and paper napkins, but there were tablecloths, chandeliers and water glasses, and even someone to serve you.
“It’s special to get your food in a restaurant,” Castillo said, satisfied.
The restaurant is one of four named Robin Hood that opened in the last November in Spain to serve those who cannot afford to dine out.
The minichain’s novel business model is not to steal from the rich, but rather to use revenues made by serving breakfast and lunch to paying customers to cover the costs of preparing free evening dinners for homeless people.
It is the brainchild of the Rev. Angel Garcia Rodriguez, 79, one part clergyman, one part innovator and nonprofit entrepreneur, who has spent a lifetime working with the needy.
Unconventional down to his attire, Father Angel, as he is universally called, prefers a suit and loose tie to a collar, unless he is saying Mass, and is just as likely to hand out his business card as communion. “The priest habit is like my gala outfit,” he said with a chuckle.
Rodriguez has had long experience finding new ways that sometimes push the boundaries of how to serve the poor.
He is president of Messengers of Peace, a nongovernment organization that employs 3,900 people and 5,000 volunteers. It runs homes for older people, orphanages, centers for drug addicts and other social services.
But what all of his projects have in common is that they have helped sustain the most vulnerable Spaniards at a time of near-record unemployment and deep public spending cuts amid the lingering economic crisis. His organization also runs projects in about 50 developing countries.
These days, it is his budding string of Robin Hood restaurants that animates Rodriguez. On top of receiving basic help, he said, poor people need to regain a sense of dignity and purpose that is hard to achieve when eating in a soup kitchen.
“To get served by a waiter wearing a nice uniform and to eat with proper cutlery, rather than a plastic fork, is what gives you back some dignity,” he said.
最早的湯廚可追溯自1790年代，當時英國工業革命雖造就整體經濟繁榮，卻使一些處於社會最貧窮階層的人生活更加困頓，英國物理學家湯普森爵士（Sir Benjamin Thompson）因而發明這種食物賑濟的方法，當時僅倫敦一地每天就能餵飽6萬人。19世紀末，湯廚普遍在美國及歐洲城市出現。美國湯廚在20世紀經濟大蕭條後變多；21世紀歐元區危機迫使許多國家實施撙節政策，不少湯廚也隨之出現。