Free pizzas, free housing: Hungarians respond to crisis with acts of kindness

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Milan Varga saved for three years to be able to open his small pizzeria in Budapest last Monday. On Tuesday his customers all but disappeared as streets emptied due to the coronavirus epidemic.

With lots of ingredients stocked up, Varga quickly changed his plans and joined a growing number of Hungarians who have responded to the crisis with acts of kindness. He is now delivering free pizzas to the elderly who have to self-isolate in their homes.

“If I cannot sell pizzas at least I can help those in need by giving them free pizzas if they voluntarily put themselves into quarantine, and thus I am trying to look after them and make sure they stay at home,” the 20-year-old said.

Varga is now delivering half of his daily pizza output free.

As the Central European country closed its borders to foreign citizens and shut down schools to contain the spread of the coronavirus, more and more Hungarians have decided to help the elderly and vulnerable, as well as healthcare workers who will bear the brunt of the crisis.

Members of the Facebook group “Budapest Airbnb community for the health workers”, which now has more than 1,200 members, are offering their flats to nurses and other healthcare workers who want to self-isolate to protect their families. Budapest had more than 10,000 Airbnb flats before the crisis hit, and the business collapsed overnight as tourists disappeared.

“We think that those who can should help those who are doing the actual work with action, with money, with kind words – we have no idea from the four walls at home about the hardships that the health workers are going through now,” said Viktoria Hojer-Szabo, who owns three Airbnb flats in Budapest.

A nurse from Budapest’s central hospital treating coronavirus patients lives in one of her flats now. So far 43 healthcare workers have moved into vacant Airbnb flats.

On Lake Balaton, Hungary’s main summer holiday destination, Gergely Toth, manager of the Sunshine hotel in the town of Siofok, offered hotel rooms to Hungarians who have returned from work abroad and have had to go into two-week quarantine.

Many people employed on Lake Balaton in the summer work abroad during the winter season. There are 39 people in the hotel now, which is giving them free meals.

“I … assumed they would not have the means to self-isolate themselves from their family here,” Toth said.

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