Literally translated, filotimo is “friend of honour”, but the word embodies far more than this in its meaning – it describes what is finest and best in the Greek people – personal pride and dignity, respect for oneself and for others, courage in the face of adversity and a sense of duty to one’s family, community and country. Most of us are familiar with the word filoxenia (friend of foreigners or strangers) and how it translates to mean ‘hospitality’, though this too is an inadequate description of the word’s broader meaning which also incorporates generosity of spirit and an obligation passed down from ancient times to provide a warm welcome to travelers.
It is in this tradition that a group of women (the Women's Association of Paros ‘Ariis’) – becoming aware of the difficulties that some on the island are facing now that work is so scarce – decided to set up a programme of food collection and distribution to those in need through the harshest winter months of January, February and March.
Their goal is to motivate consumers, each and every one of us who can afford it, each time we shop, to contribute one or two items to the collection baskets now available at the checkout of many of the island’s supermarkets, marked with the notice ‘ΨΩΝΙΖΩ ΚΑΙ ΣΤΗΡΙΖΩ’ (Shop & Support). Suitable non-perishable goods to donate are canned milk, oil, pulses, rice, tinned tomatoes, sugar, flour, pasta, babyfood and toiletries. Participating supermarkets at present include:
The Vidalis supermarket in Paroikia is also participating in the SKAI programme ‘Oloi Mazi Mporoume’ (All Together We Can), working together with the Ekatontapyliani church to distribute food, so there are two donation baskets located there.
The groceries collected by ‘Ariis’ are picked up weekly and distributed every Thursday from 4.30-5.30pm at Damias Rooms (thanks to Michalis Damias for allowing the use of his premises) located on the Paroikia-Kamares road opposite the parking lot under the municipal stadium in Paroikia.
Volunteers from Paros, Israel, America, England and Germany are working side-by-side to pick up, sort and deliver the groceries. One person is donating the proceeds from the sales of their book; another is sending money from the USA to a friend on the island to buy goods locally and add them to the baskets. And, of course, every individual who donates even a single item gives their support to this community effort. What’s more, some supermarket staff members are actively encouraging donations, asking customers at the check-out if they would like to put something in the basket.
“Many of our customers are glad to help support this programme,” one of the staff at the AB Supermarket in Naoussa told me. “They ask me what they can put in the basket each time they shop, so I like to be able to tell them if there are any particular items needed in any given week. This is such a good thing to have come out of the crisis – it makes us more human, thinking about how we can help each other.”
This project is just in its infancy, of course. There are many aspects that will be improved as it develops and all kinds of challenges to be met, not least of which is ensuring that those who need to know about the food distribution are aware of it. A flyer has been produced in Greek, English, Albanian, Russian and Urdu to communicate the details.
Stella Fyroyeni, vice-president of Ariis, told me “Our association has become very sensitive to what’s going on around us and we can’t just stand by and watch. We decided we must try to find a way to support all those in our community who are struggling this winter and not just to talk about it, but to act. With the help of the many, many people donating groceries at the supermarkets, we are able to make this a reality and we are very glad that – most importantly – we are looking around us, becoming aware of who is in need, and not just thinking about ourselves. “We’re not trying to do anything on a huge scale; if we can help, even just a little, then we will do so as much as we can. We are open; we want to support everyone who needs assistance, without any restrictions or discrimination.
“I’m really happy to see how everyone is participating with a good heart, and maybe we can warm our hearts and spread this kindness to all those who are in need.”
I asked Stella how those who can benefit from this programme are being identified and she explained:
“We are working together with the church and with other local organisations such as EPAPSY (the Association for Regional Development & Mental Health), and have already identified some families and individuals for whom this programme is critically important. Many others are calling us directly to ask for assistance, and we are trying to address their needs too, although there are many challenges. The important thing was to make a start and to be able to support people immediately.
“Our municipality, working with the church and the Red Cross – who will send representatives to train volunteers – are planning to set up a similar programme and of course when that starts we will support them, but it will take time to get all the necessary permissions to get it running and people are hungry right now, so we’re doing this in the meantime to make sure people get something right away.”
Discussing the situation with other volunteers, we spoke about how, theoretically, it’s possible that one or two people who don't really ‘need’ free food might take advantage of the programme, but that that isn’t a reason not to do it and is a small price to pay for getting the food to those who do need it. A bigger challenge is actually the opposite one – how to get the message to everyone needing help and facilitate their coming to get food packages.
It is also obvious that a heavily bureaucratic procedure that insists on people somehow being able to prove they are ‘poor’ will deter many from coming.
One volunteer told me: “Many people who don’t have the resources to buy groceries won’t come forward to say they don’t.” Another said: “In a country where honour and respect are very important, of course it is hard for many people to admit that they are in need of assistance.”
The concept of a ‘food bank’ may be a new one on Paros, but many programmes of this kind are run in other parts of the world, so I telephoned Canada’s largest food bank, the Daily Bread Food Bank and spoke to their Director of Agency Relations, Gail Gould. I asked her how they manage the distribution process; she explained that they work through 170 different agencies (mostly located in local churches and community centres), that they are accountable to their donors and supporters, so they keep statistics and have financial guidelines to assess eligibility. When someone accesses the food bank for the first time, they are asked to do an income assessment interview and to provide information about their household so as to ensure that the food is distributed fairly based on the number of people in each family. “But our policy is not to turn away anyone who is hungry,” she said. Gail also told me that we can contact her at any time for advice or assistance and she’d be glad to be of help. I also learned from her that recent research by Dr Valerie Tarasuk of the Univeristy of Toronto shows that only around 22% of those eligible to apply to food banks in Canada are actually making use of them; the remaining 78% do not apply, often because of shame, stigma or fear. There are thousands of illegal immigrants in Canada and some of the agencies serving them operate on a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” basis, so that they can provide access to food without fear of detention or deportation.
Food poverty is a symptom of the much broader issue of a failure of social justice and human rights. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 925 million people in the world (that’s one in seven people) are going hungry, despite the fact that there is enough food available to feed the entire global population.
The World Hunger Education Service (www.worldhunger.org ) informs us that poverty is the principal cause of hunger and that harmful economic and political systems are the principal cause of poverty. “Hunger causes poor health, low levels of energy, and even mental impairment, leading to more poverty by reducing people's ability to work and learn,” thus creating a vicious circle. War and climate change are two other causative factors.
As Celia, a friend who has worked for many years as a volunteer at food banks in Toronto told me, “I’m glad the food programme is being well-received in Paros, but I’m sad it's necessary.”
Addressing the needs of 925 million may seem too colossal a task to tackle, but, together, let’s take the first step by doing whatever we can to promote social justice and eradicate hunger in our own neighbourhood. I am proud to know the exceptional women who have begun this work on Paros.
The Paros Women’s Association ‘Ariis’ would appreciate hearing from anyone who would like to volunteer to help set up on Thursday mornings from 10am to 12pm or with the distribution of food in the afternoon from 4.30-5.30pm.
For more information please contact the president of the association, Stavroula Tricha (694-732-5919) or vice-president Stella Fyrogeni (694-258-2321).
THE IMPORTANT ROLE OF THE CHURCH
‘STEGI AGAPIS’ - PAROS
The Orthodox Church on Paros has for some years provided daily hot meals at the ‘sissitio’ (soup kitchen), the ‘Stegi Agapis’ (Shelter of Love), located close to Pirate Bar on the small street behind the old town hall (KAPI), between the shops Camomilla and Pink Woman in Paroikia. Meals are prepared by Sevasti Filostomou who tells me that she is now cooking for around 40 people every day (double the number of a couple of years ago). The church is also providing meals – about 30 daily – in Naoussa this winter. Sevasti would appreciate some help if anyone can volunteer to assist with the food preparation – she is there every day from 8.30am to 12.30pm (tel: 22840-25142).
‘YEVMATOS AGAPIS’ - NAXOS
Since January 2012, Naxos also has a soup kitchen called the ‘Yevmatos Agapis’ (Meals of Love) run by the Holy Metropolis of Paronaxia and located behind the Probonas local products store. Father Chrysostomos Kotakis told me their volunteers serve meals daily from 11.30am-12.30pm for up to 60 people of different nationalities.
SENIOR CITIZENS’ HOME - PAROS
The senior citizens’ home in Krios, Paros, currently housing 20 people, is another important way in which the Orthodox church is serving the local community. Donation boxes are placed in a number of shops and offices around the island where individuals can donate to support both the home and the Ekatontapyliani’s soup kitchen programme. Larger donations (requiring a receipt) to the senior citizen’s home can be made directly to one of the following accounts:
Alpha Bank: 625-002101-057881
Ethniki Bank: 455/296030-32
Further info from the Ekatontapyliani: 22840-23243, 22840-24739.