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Boroume volunteer group gets food to the needy

By Lina Giannarou

«Saving food -- saving lives” is the motto of nonprofit initiative Boroume (We Can), established in January by Xenia Papastavrou, Alexandros Theodoridis and Alexia Moatsou in order to coordinate the daily donation of surplus food from a variety of sources to orphanages, soup kitchens, nursing homes and other welfare institutions.

“I’ve made a lovely fish soup with vegetables, scorpion fish, ombrine and monkfish for six people. I know it’s not a lot, but I can give it away today. Margarita B.”

This SMS message, which arrived on Papastavrou’s cell phone as I was speaking to her, is the simplest version of what Boroume does on a daily basis. On this particular Sunday, Papastavrou communicated with Margarita B. and told her about a retirement home near her own house that is part of Boroume’s network. Within a few hours, the fish soup was delivered to their door.

Papastavrou, a graduate of the London School of Economics in human resource management, started out helping austerity-hit Greece as a volunteer at the Food Bank. When the idea of creating a network that would bring together catering services and welfare groups began taking shape in her mind, she couldn’t imagine the magnitude of change she would see in the way people responded to acting as a community.

Bakeries, restaurant chains and catering companies joined the Boroume group in droves, often anonymously. More than 500 people from around Greece signed up as volunteers, home cooks and shopkeepers who wanted to do something to help.

Within weeks, tons of fresh food that would normally have been consigned to the trash, from whole loaves of bread to gourmet dishes that were never sold at fancy restaurants, found their way to people in need, at the 400-plus institutions and soup kitchens that make up Boroume’s growing network.

One of the secrets of the group’s success is that it finds welfare groups and food programs in the neighborhood of the associated restaurant, catering business or volunteer cook, cutting out the time-consuming and costly process of having to store and transport the food from one central location.

“This allows us to operate in a number of different locations, with zero cost and fast,” explained Papastavrou.

One of the group’s biggest recent scores was its collaboration with the Association of Athens Hoteliers, which was looking into ways that it could help the needy. Through Boroume, 25 hotels in the Greek capital currently produce 50 meals a week each that are distributed to welfare institutions and soup kitchens.

“They didn’t want to simply donate food that was left over in their restaurants. They wanted to cook specifically for this purpose in order to help institutions in their area,” said Papastavrou. “It is crucial for people in need to receive help in their own neighborhood and not to have to travel distances and stand in queues,” she added.

The chefs and kitchen assistance at the hotels have thrown themselves into the effort wholeheartedly, says Papastavrou. “Like unsung heroes, the guys in the kitchens give it their best, preparing delicious, nourishing food.”

The hotels that have signed up to the program have also proved invaluable to Boroume in terms of the equipment they offer.

“They give away a lot of cooking utensils and appliances that are in mint condition and in storage. Every week we draw up a list of the items needed by various institutions around Athens and e-mail it to the association. It, in turn, informs its members and they then let us know if the items we need are available. We have asked for everything, from curtains to dishwashers, and they have always responded.”

The success of Boroume seems to be growing as it receives new requests every day from ever-larger companies looking to join the cause.

“In the past it would have taken a lot of time and energy to convince some of these businesses to help. Now they themselves call in and ask to participate,” said Papastavrou.

But however fast the list of participants grows, it cannot keep up with the list of people in need. A year ago, the Municipality of Zografou, for example, distributed two meals a week to 70 people. Today it feeds 430 people twice a week, the criterion being people who earn less than 6,000 euros a year. In December last year, the Pendeli food program fed 150 people a week; today it feeds 300.

“A lot of municipalities are asking for our help to collect food to be distributed in schools as well,” said Papastavrou. “The need is just so big.”

To learn more about Boroume, log on to the bilingual Greek-English website at www.boroume.gr.

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