A new Athens food distribution organisation channels food to those who otherwise might not eat. By Maria Paravantes for Southeast European Times in Athens -- 13/12/11
With about 20% of the Greek population below the poverty line and the traditional family security net a thing of the past, more and more Greeks are finding it hard to afford a decent meal.According to Athens University of Economics research, one in 11 Greeks resorts to welfare centres for rations because they cannot afford food. Yet a stroll past garbage bins outside restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets shows tonnes of food thrown away daily.
Athens, like every modern-day city, has fallen into a paradox: people going hungry as unconsumed food fills neighbourhood trash. As Nobel laureate Amartya Sen noted, famines and hunger are not caused by lack of food, but rather distributional problems.
And that is exactly what motivated Greek Food Bank volunteer Xenia Papastavrou to set upBoroume – Saving Food, Saving Lives (www.boroume.gr).
Translated as"We Can", the months-old online initiative aims to raise awareness and offer a channel of communication, serving as a go-between, guiding volunteers and interested parties in the right direction.
"The idea was born in May. As a food bank volunteer I experienced first-hand the rising need for food and the daily struggle various institutions went through to secure rations for the needy. At the same time, I noticed so much food being thrown away,"Papastavrou told SETimes.
"That's when it dawned on me to find a simple way for those who have left-over food to be able to offer it to those in need. With that in mind, I set up an online platform which would help co-ordinate the two,"she explains.
And thanks to the far-reaching effect of social media, the initiative has taken off. People of all ages and all walks of life contact Papastavrou daily in order to find out how to lend a helping hand.
"Anyone interested in offering food contacts Boroume. The same applies for those in need. Our volunteers then bring the two together,"she explains.
"Restaurants and bakeries package left-over food, Boroume arranges who will get it, and someone from the organisation goes by and picks up the food."
The basic idea, Papastavrou says, is to get neighbourhoods active, get local bakeries, eateries and supermarkets to offer provisions to institutions in the same neighbourhood. That way nothing goes to waste.
One of the first restaurants to take part in the initiative is Kavatza, located in the uptown district of Kolonaki. Already working with the City of Athens, Kavatza sent 250 servings of food to the city's homeless shelter on October 17th, the International Day Against Poverty.
That's when Kavatza decided to co-operate with Boroume, PR manager Aspasia Formentini says.
"We decided to send whatever leftover food there was to the city's rations so that they could feed people in need."
Boroume works hand-in-hand with the Greek Food Bank, a non-profit organisation founded in 1995 by Gerasmios Vasilopoulos, with the goal to fight hunger and limit waste.
"We gather processed fare and provisions offered by food companies and individuals. They are brought to our premises just before expiry dates and from there we distribute to institutions and organisations in need,"Aristomenis Dionysopoulos, director of Greek Food Bank, told SETimes.
The Greek unit, which works with over 200 organisations countrywide and helps feed an estimated 28,000 people per week, has offices in Athens and in the northern port city of Thessaloniki.
As a member of the European Federation of Food Banks, which brings together 240 food banks in 21 European countries, the Greek unit receives no state aid, functioning with about 30 volunteers and relying on donations.
"More than 100 donors, including large food and dairy companies, help the Food Bank in its efforts,"explains Dionysopoulos.
Boroume and the Food Bank have the same goal: to stop waste and offer the needy help. The Food Bank collects and distributes food, whereas Boroume co-ordinates and promotes food to the poor,"Dionysopoulos adds.
"People who've been laid off [collect food]. Single-parent or multi-child families, people who live alone with no family, shelters for the old or rehabilitating substance abusers,"Papastavrou says.
The initiative already held its first volunteer meeting in the first week of December as all the more diners, bakeries, supermarket chains, hotels and catering companies are expressing interest.
In the meantime, the Food Bank organised its annualCollect day earlier this month in central Athens and Thessaloniki supermarkets, where consumers offered packaged food items to the volunteers.
"It's a shame that there are people in this day and age that are hungry,"says Mary, as she walks out of a supermarket in Agia Paraskevi, northeastern Athens."We can all help make this change by doing very little,"she adds, before offering several canned foods to the Food Bank volunteers.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
Source: Maria Paravantes forSoutheast European Times in Athens -- 13/12/11