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Did we ever think it could happen here?
- The figures speak for themselves. In Nicosia 1397 families are now receiving regular food packages to keep food on the table. In Limassol it’s 230, Larnaca 150 and in Paphos it is 500. And these are just the figures from the bigger programmes run by municipalities and the church. Every single one of these organisations expects those numbers to rise rapidly in the coming months, troika bailout or not.
‘There are families on no income’
By Alexandra Anastassiades
The church-run soup kitchen and the Limassol municipality’s community market are playing an increasingly important role in the town as more and more crisis-stricken families fall under the poverty line.
The community market is an initiative of the Limassol municipality that collects donated dried and canned food, household items and clothes and prepares them into packages to be given to families in need. In the 12 months it has been operating, the number of families requesting assistance has jumped from 25 to 230.
“Cases that last year were considered urgent, aren’t considered so this year,” head of Limassol municipality’s social welfare department, Evie Tsolaki, told the Sunday Mail.
“For example, the other day a mother of three who was on a salary of 800 euros a month, came and asked us for help. Although this would have been considered an urgent case last year, there are far worse cases now with families that receive no income at all requesting help.”
She said the department receives around 40 requests every week and the number keeps on rising.
“Although it is an initiative of the municipality, the community market operates on a voluntary basis and heavily relies on the volunteers’ help.”
Families requesting assistance are asked fill in an application at the market’s premises in Ayios Ioannis on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am-12pm, and submit evidence of their income and expenses. Those who fulfil the criteria and whose details are verified and approved are notified and, depending on the availability of products, can come and receive their package. Urgent cases are given priority and are often given a few items when they come to submit their application to help them get by.
The packages consist of dry foods such as pasta and rice, canned goods, cereal, fresh milk and even clothes, shoes and games. Children may receive extra powdered milk and both children and elderly people are regularly given extra diapers.
“All of the products are donated, either from supermarkets, suppliers or the public through events that we organise,” Tsolaki explains.
The Limassol bishopric’s soup kitchen has been around for six years and offers daily lunch to people in need. The effects of the economic crisis have driven more and more people to the soup kitchen with the number doubling from last year.
In this case, individuals must present a recommendation from a specific bishopric department that helps the needy, in order to be eligible for food. The department works in collaboration with the state welfare services to review individual cases.
“We have seen a sharp increase in people requesting help. The number has doubled in the past year,” Limassol bishopric’s Stavros Olympiou told the Sunday Mail.
“We serve over 500 portions of food a day, with people either eating at the premises or collecting the food as take away to be eaten for lunch or for dinner. We also pack 1,100 sandwiches and juice boxes a day to be given to students in need in schools all around Limassol.”
'It will get worse'
By Bejay Browne
Close to five hundred families in Paphos are in urgent need of regular help to keep food on their tables, municipal officials said this week.
A municipality social welfare committee programme to help needy families started in April with 150 families receiving some sort of food support. That number has now grown to 500 with officials expecting figures to increase rapidly.
“As the economic crisis takes its toll, more and more people are losing their jobs and there is an increasing growing number who have no money for food. This is a terrible situation and we are doing what we can to help, but I believe it will get worse before it gets better,” Maria Zavrou, the president of the Paphos social welfare committee, told the Sunday Mail
Eighty per cent of those requesting help are Cypriots, a statistic that Zavrou finds particularly poignant.
“Cypriots are proud and the Cyprus family is a very strong bond. Family members usually help each other out when in need. But now we have come to the point where they are not in a position to help anymore,” she said.
She said no-one is turned away, but families have to provide the correct paperwork to ensure that the correct people are being offered help.
The Paphos food programme is also co-operating with the state social services, which are passing on families who do not fulfill their criteria for help.
“There are some needy people who might not qualify for social service help, so they pass them on to us,” Zavrou said. ”Along with the social services, Paphos municipality, volunteer organisations and other associations, we have created a kind of network so that we are able to help people who really need it.”
Most of the needy in Paphos are young families, but the elderly are being given food parcels as well.
Large families with three or four children are given a basic package plus extra food and some are receiving help on a weekly basis.
The items are collected throughout the week from donations and food bought by the Paphos municipality; they are taken to the food support centre and put onto shelves. They are then packaged up into food parcels by the social welfare and volunteers and are handed out at lunchtime every Friday.
A basic food parcel includes necessary staples such as sugar, flour, long life milk, pasta, rice, pulses, cooking oil and coffee.
“We also give any other items we may have collected, including tinned goods. If there are children in the family they are also given products such as cornflakes and cookies,” Zavrou said. A basic package costs about 35-40 euros and around 65 families receive weekly help with the rest being given parcels either once or twice a month.
With Christmas looming, a major collection drive is underway at all major supermarkets in Paphos.
“We are placing volunteer-manned collection points at the supermarkets to encourage shoppers to donate goods for needy families at Christmas. They can purchase whatever they want and place it in the container. These will then be packaged up and given to the people in time for Christmas.”
Paphos municipality is purchasing 500 chickens to be given to the families for the festive season.
Zavrou said although there is wide-spread support for the programme, the municipality is trying to get more people involved to meet the demand for help.
“We now have a programme to involve school children as well. They will help us at the supermarkets and parents are being encouraged to bring products to schools which will then be passed on to us.”
Zavrou fears that next year will be worse.
“We will see the cuts in salaries and banks pushing for loans to be repaid. Homes may be repossessed as well,” she said. “Next year, we may have to have a soup kitchen which will provide hot meals for those without food.”
‘We can’t give everyone food’
By Peter Stevenson
WHEN the Larnaca municipality-run community market opened in March to provide weekly food parcels to families in need, it helped 40 families. By last week it was giving basic food items to 150.
Each week more and more applications are made to the committee made up of three municipal councillors from the social welfare office who have the unenviable task of reviewing each case and deciding which individuals or families need help.
Every week they review 30 cases, looking at how many members are in each family, what income they receive, if they are unemployed and if they receive any benefits from the government. This criteria needs to be documented and it is the responsibility of each family to have any paper work confirmed by their community leader.
Not all cases are approved by the committee as they may be deemed to receive enough benefit, although each case is reviewed differently. Larnaca’s committee is following the model set by Limassol municipality, which started the first community market.
“We can’t give everyone food, and although we don’t want to see anyone hungry in Larnaca, there are strict guidelines that we must follow,” said councillor and head of the committee Elias Elia.
Every Thursday Larnaca council members collect food from different businesses, ranging from bakers and delicatessen meat suppliers to paediatricians. Members of the public also donate.
Eligible families and individuals go on a Friday to the market to collect food which is placed in bags. The value of the donations ranges from €20 and €30 depending on what donations the council has received that week. The bags contain different dry and canned foods such as pasta, rice, tinned tomatoes and also seasonal fruit and vegetables.
All of the collected food is donated by local businesses and the public.
“All of the volunteers and people that are contributing with donations are truly a blessing from God,” said Elia. “It truly is rewarding to be able to help our fellow man in need, because for all we know it could be you and me in their situation.”
“Even though the crisis is worsening, the donations are increasing,” said a volunteer from the market who wished to remain nameless.
The council also plans to start collecting clothing as part of the aid it gives families in need.
“There is a need to collect as many things as possible to give a meaningful donation to the families who truly need it, sending a message of support and help,” Larnaca Mayor Andreas Louroutziatis said this week.
Larnaca municipality will also be handing out turkey dinners, soft drinks and Christmas cakes on New Year’s day for those families that qualify for assistance.
In Nicosia the church leads the way
By Christos Theodorides
IN NICOSIA it is the church which has taken the responsibility for spearheading a system for providing food packages to families in need.
The church, under the direct initiative of Archbishop Chrysostomos II, opened a food market on May 21 this year where families that are in immediate need can receive food.
It is down to the parish priests, who have direct contact with their flock, to evaluate the needs of their communities and keep the archbishopric updated by sending in lists of Cypriot families who need help.
In May, the number of families that received help was 515. It is now 1397, according to the archbishopric’s Father Ieronymos who is in charge of the programme. He estimates that by Christmas that figure could reach 2,500. The size of each family receiving help can be anywhere between one and eight members.
“The Pallouriotissa parish, for example, began with 66 families and has reached 104 to date, whilst the St Spyridona parish started off with 92 and now totals 138 families,” said Father Ieronymos.
To begin with, providing food cost between €21,000 and €27,500 a month. This has now risen to €40,000 with the amount expected to rise sharply in 2013. Most of the money is donated by the church with the rest coming from donations made by private businessmen or from different fundraisers which the church has organised.
The church purchases the goods directly from the suppliers at wholesale prices, handing them out in packs, once a month. These packs contain 18 different goods, including cereal, pulses, pasta, tomato concentrate, tuna, processed meat and fresh.
Help is also given to Cypriots living in Greece.
“There is currently a market operating in Athens, at Athens Cypria, where rooms have been made available to give out packs of food to help the 197 Cypriot families that are living in Athens,” Father Ieronymous said. There is also a market in Kallithea and Daphni for the parishioners of those areas.
Although Nicosia municipality has not yet followed the example of other municipalities in providing food packages to struggling families, sources at Nicosia town hall said this week they plan to start a similar project soon.