Madrid city hall hosts Christmas Eve feast for homeless
Two hundred homeless people feasted on an exquisite Christmas Eve meal of seafood soup, prawns, baked gilthead bream and roast shoulder of lamb on Thursday, in the Spanish capital's palatial city hall.
"It's wonderful," said Francisco Lopez, 67, seated at a table decorated with red ribbons in the courtyard of the Cybele Palace, a monumental wedding-cake shaped building that houses Madrid city hall.
"If I hadn't been invited to come here tonight, I would have just eaten a sandwich," added Lopez, who has been sleeping in a church for the last months because he has nowhere to live.
Madrid city hall, run since June by a left-wing alliance backed by Spain's anti-austerity party Podemos, allowed a Spanish NGO to host the Christmas Eve dinner in the building.
Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena, a 71-year-old former judge who was a labour rights activist during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, mingled with the guests.
"Merry Christmas, much joy to everyone and, on this day, peace," she said as she delivered a toast before leaving to have dinner at home with her family.
A local taxi company offered free rides to dinner guests who were seated at 22 tables under the beautiful glass skylight of the courtyard.
A giant, environmentally-friendly Christmas tree made from cardboard boxes decorated the courtyard, with a star made from used plastic bottles glimmering on its crest.
Father Angel Garcia, the Roman Catholic priest who founded the Mensajeros de la Paz (Messengers of Peace) NGO that hosted the gathering, said the goal was "to make these people happy, give them love and affection...
"That at least one time a year, for some of them the first time in their lives, they can sit at a table with flowers, with red napkins."
Mayor Carmena campaigned for a May local election on a pledge to fight inequality and help the city's poor.
Since taking office she and her team have helped overturn eviction orders for dozens of families and set up a mediation service for people who cannot pay their mortgages.
Her stance stands in contrast with her conservative predecessor Ana Botella who once famously complained that homeless people were an "added difficulty" for street cleaners.
Madrid has about 1,900 homeless people, according to city hall figures. About 40 percent sleep on the streets, with the rest spending the night in shelters.
© 2015 AFP