The people who rely on food banks tend to belong to special categories and are hard to count. Most are residents of care facilities, drug addicts, homeless people, members of broken families and elderly people.
One of the many things the pandemic will affect is the need for food relief – for the worse. Up until now, the food situation has been more or less under control in Greece. The Church of Greece, organizations like Together We Can, the Food Bank and many others are busy collecting food from institutions and private parties and making sure it gets to the people who need it. The state also contributes with programs like school meals, municipal soup kitchens and social pantries.
The beneficiaries mainly belong to special categories and are hard to count. Most are residents of care facilities, drug addicts, homeless people, members of broken families and elderly people. There are also many who have been unemployed for a long time. Greece ranks second from bottom in the European Union’s poverty chart and we can assume that those in need of help come to several thousands. However, the cases of hunger that see the light of publicity are usually the result of poor organization rather than a shortage of resources to acquire it.
That, at least, was the case so far. At the Food Bank we have already noticed a rise in demand from the foundations we work with, while more are reaching out to us. Judging by developments in other countries, the ranks of people in Greece in need of food support will swell as the economic impact of the pandemic adds waves of people losing their jobs and incomes. The phenomenon will grow in the months to come and it is vital that we mobilize all the means at our disposal to deal with this quickly and effectively. Apart from the humanitarian dimension of the issue, hunger has social and political repercussions.
The state has a major weapon at its disposal in the upcoming fight for food security which is the Fund for European Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD). Greece’s share of this resource for the 2014-20 period is 331 million euros, of which we must contribute 15%, meaning we can claim around 280 million euros. The money is intended mainly for the purchase of food.
According to the EU, up until 2018, Greece had claimed just 18% percent of its share, or 59 million euros. The department that is responsible for managing these funds does not publish its data, so we do not know how this money was absorbed in 2019 and so far in 2020. Even if remarkable progress is made on this front, there is a risk that the program will expire and some 150-200 million euros will be lost – at a time when the problem of hunger is intensifying. There is also the danger that Greece will be eligible for a lot less money under the next program as a result of its performance so far, when right now we have the second highest per capita ratio of assistance.
The main cause of Greece’s failure to absorb the FEAD funds is the snarl of red tape created around their management. The EU has left management of the funds to the discretion of the member-states, with few restrictions. To absorb the remaining money before the program expires, these processes need to be redrafted immediately. If this is accomplished, it may be a boon that so much money is left over and could be used in the impending emergency.
The government faces a political risk if the FEAD money is lost, and especially at a time of hunger, but it still has a chance to use it properly.
Panagis Vourloumis is the president of the Greek Food Bank.