SOCIETY

After 20 years of cutting waste, feeding the needy, food bank keeps up good work during crisis

It’s 8 a.m. and the atmosphere on a side street in the town of Kryoneri, just north of Athens, is intense. Trucks are coming and going, emptied and filled. It’s the moment when two worlds, providers and beneficiaries, meet.

The meeting point is a food bank, where volunteers have managed the exchange of food products for 20 years. “Normally we get food that’s close to its expiration date which people think they won’t eat in time,” explains Dimitris Nentas. “Moreover, the food bank philosophy is to prevent waste, so that no food is thrown away.”

Here, all kinds of edibles can be found, including a great deal of desserts. “Sometimes we get products with defective packaging, which are then put into better packaging.”

The building has two refrigerated areas for dairy and vegetables, even though those types of foods are not generally sought after.

“We are able to accommodate any donation, no matter how big,” says Nentas as he shows us around the two-story building, which is full of all sorts of food.

Inside a truck that arrived at the entrance a little while ago, customers are given cookies, evaporated milk, pasta, flour, packaged olive oil, and even detergents and cleaning products.

“Usually charities send vehicles to fill with prearranged items.” However, thanks to a donation by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation the bank has a van for personal deliveries. Not all recipients receive the same food. “There are prior consultations so we can have detailed lists of the recipients’ needs. People in nursing homes have certain nutritional needs, as do children at summer camps. The orders are taken weekly so as to reduce the chance of food going to waste.”

John van Hengel established the first food bank in Arizona in 1967. The idea quickly gained traction in Europe and the rest of the United States. The project was introduced to Greek shores in 1995 by Gerasimos Vasilopoulos with the introduction of Food Bank Greece in Athens, followed by a Thessaloniki branch in 1997. It started operating well before the outbreak of the economic crisis and was thus prepared for it.

Since 1996, Food Bank Greece has collected over 14,500 tons of food, including 6,000 tons during the critical 2009-13 period. The recipients today number some 27,000.

Today, Food Bank Greece has 218 locations in Athens and Thessaloniki. It sends food to 17 nursing homes, 121 soup kitchens, 21 institutions for the disabled, six rehabilitation centers, six centers for needy families and children, three centers for abused women, two cancer clinics, and seven summer camps for underprivileged children.

The food donations are not leftovers, however. Companies donate food as part of their corporate social responsibility programs. There are also donations from individuals who give at supermarket collection drives.