A recent event at the War Museum in central Athens paid tribute to a man who set out from the mountains of Ilia in the Peloponnese to conquer the business world in the Greek capital and leave us with valuable lessons in innovation and humanity.
The event was organized on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Food Bank Greece, which was created and supported by the late Gerasimos Vassilopoulos, an entrepreneur with a string of professional successes, including a well-known supermarket chain. Despite his conquests, his widow and front-line Food Bank volunteer Athena Vassilopoulou said, “his mind kept going back to a promise that he made himself as a boy: that when he became financially independent he would give back some of what he made with the help of God and society.”
Over the years, Vassilopoulos became very conscious of the amount of food waste that was happening around him.
“Then he received a letter from a good friend in the United States, Beau Baldwin, who told him of his involvement in the Food Bank.” It was that letter that inspired the businessman to start a Greek branch of the program, which, after numerous delays, was finally launched in 1995.
The initiative made Greece the 10th member of the Federation of European Food Banks and very soon it had a band of volunteers, headed by Athena Vassilopoulou, who also conducted the first visits to foundations and programs that offered food to the needy and which had requested the help of Food Bank Greece.
“At that time of provocative overabundance, it was hard to imagine for many that there were people who were hungry or underfed yet it was a reality we dealt with every day,” said the director of Food Bank Greece, Aristomenis Dionysopoulos.
The philosophy of the program is to redistribute food from supermarkets that would otherwise be sent to the dump because it is close to its expiration date or has faulty packaging.
“We basically mediate between those who want to give but often don’t know how and those who are in need,” explained Dionysopoulos.
The success of Food Bank Greece has been growing steadily over the past 20 years, despite the crisis, and it has managed to distribute a total of 16,000 tons of food. In 2013, it distributed 1,513 tons, part of which was arranged via campaigns launched by the Latsis and Bodossaki foundations. In 2014, 1,220 tons of food made it to the needy.
In total, the number of people who receive assistance from Food Bank Greece comes to 23,000, while it provides food to 144 institutions’ feeding programs and soup kitchens.
“Our effort would not have survived if it weren’t for the support of big companies,” said the president of Food Bank Greece, Panagis Vourloumis.
Daphne Economou, head of Cerebral Palsy Greece for the past two decades, expressed her thanks to Food Bank Greece for its help.
“The crisis has created serious economic problems for 130 of the 240 families we provide services for, that is 56 percent,” she said. “When I informed Mrs Vassilopoulou of this, she simply said, ‘Why don’t you just ask for more?’ These are rare words in times like these.”