The generous hard work of Mercedes Villegas, the female superhero of this story, began many years ago back in 1994 when she was working as a volunteer in France. At that time, this young journalist wanted to learn French and get involved in charitable work, and this is how she ending up spending her summer visiting elderly people who were sharing a home.
Today her foundation caters for more than 850 elderly people who live alone through no choice of their own. The majority of these people were directed to the foundation by the Community of Madrid Social Services or the City Hall. Their role is to provide emotional support to these people, something which the administration cannot do, but that the 875 volunteers working with the administration do very well, by taking care of the elderly people and forming mutually supportive friendships.
For Mercedes, her time as a volunteer for the French organization Petis frères des pauvres was a watershed moment for her. From this point on, she could not get the idea out of her mind: to apply this volunteering model in Madrid. And with the help of friends and family the foundation's journey began of the Fundación Grandes Amigos.
While volunteering in France, Mercedes learned the organization's motto. “Flowers before bread”, and she has made it her own. Her belief is that human warmth must necessarily go hand in hand with helping people meet their basic needs. It is crucial to arrange the flowers on the table before bringing the bread.
A good example of how care and affection can change lives can be seen in Hania and Ángeles' story. This is a tale of friendship between two people life has brought together in order for them to help each other.
Ángeles lives in a basement flat in the Vallecas neighborhood and four years ago she lost the love of her life. She has no children nor any family members close by. Today, at 90 years old, she manages to walk up the steps to the street every morning to do the shopping and drink a coffee. She informs us that she has been operated on her “hips, eyes and knees”, but she can still get around in the neighborhood on her own and get her shopping done.
And then, later on, Hania arrives and spends three hours with her each day, sharing their daily lives. This 32 year old volunteer does not believe that she is taking care of Ángeles, she is keeping her company. They are companions to each other. They are both learning something. Hania and Ángeles are partners in crime, they have fun together and care for each other. They are friends.
So much so that the foundation has just changed its name. It was previously called “Amigos de los mayores” (Friends of the elderly), but they have decided to change it to “Grandes Amigos” (Great Friends). Because words are important, as is friendship and affection.