Greek NGO still fights food waste, malnutrition, bridging donors with charities in post-bailout

Greek NGO still fights food waste, malnutrition, bridging donors with charities in post-bailout

Eight years ago as debt-laden Greece was almost sinking into a humanitarian crisis, and soup kitchens started sprouting across the country, a group of friends joined forces to help bridge donors with charities to make the most of the wave of solidarity, fighting food waste and protecting the environment at the same time.

Boroume (meaning "We Can" in Greek) was established as a non-profit organization in January 2012. Within seven years, it has helped save and offer to the needy at least 29 million portions of food and keeps working nonstop every day to this direction, founding member Alexandros Theodoridis told Xinhua.

"There is this oxymoron where on one hand there is waste of food and on the other hand you are hearing about more and more people in need of this food, but instead of receiving it, it was ending up in landfills," Theodoridis said about the situation in 2011-2012.

Although Greece formally exited last summer the bailout programs which kept it afloat since 2010 and the images of soup kitchens are no longer on the front pages of international media, there is still need for helping hands to assist households which were hit hard by the crisis.

Unemployment rates have improved to 18.5 percent last November, down from 28 percent during the peak of the crisis, and Greek economy has returned to growth according to official statistics.

But still Greek households have lost 25 percent of their pre-crisis income, savings have evaporated and many families rely on the pension of one grandparent to make ends meet, Theodoridis noted.

"Certainly regarding the humanitarian crisis, the worst part is over. However, the fact that it is no longer a front page story, does not mean that the situation has improved so much. It has been stabilized. There is still great need, undoubtedly," he stressed.

Currently, Boroume saves and offers more than 24,000 portions of food every day. It collaborates with 1,200 charitable institutions, soup kitchens and municipal social services all over Greece, and at least 1,300 sponsors.

The organization acts as a platform linking directly donors to recipient aid programs, Theodoridis explained. They cooperate with farmers on the field and in street markets, local bakeries and major super market chains and companies who wish to offer aid, but do not know what kind of products or quantities each charity group needs.

The entire project has been supported by over 900 volunteers, while more than 16,000 children in three years have participated in their educational program, as increasing awareness about food waste is one of their key goals.

"The significant thing is that there is no more waste, or at least be reduced. The only way to achieve it is through education," Theodoridis said.

Even though there are no comprehensive updated statistics data and studies to depict the size of the problem of food waste in Greece, he noted, from his experience it is still a significant issue, because despite the debt crisis, generous food portions are part of Greeks' culture.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, an estimated one-third of all food produced globally is lost or goes to waste. According to the organization in 2013, Greece had a 5.1 percent of surplus food produce. It was more than double of the average 2.3 percent among EU member states.

According to a 2013 survey by Greek polling firm Public Issue for WWF Hellas, the Greek branch of the international nature conservation group WWF, 27 percent of respondents said that they were throwing away food at least one to two times per month and 9 percent on average two to three times per week.

A few months ago Deputy Minister of Social Solidarity Theano Fotiou said Greece will propose legislation to effectively tackle food waste based on the French case where major super markets are obliged to not throw away food, otherwise face fines.

WWF Hellas welcomed the step as positive, urging with no further delay for a comprehensive national strategy plan with emphasis on prevention of food waste.

"The battle against food waste is a win-win case where everyone is a winner: the state, society and the environment," Achilleas Plitharas, WWF Hellas public engagement coordinator stressed in an opinion article published at "Avghi" newspaper.

According to the Greek expert, a better estimate of the extent of the surplus food which may end up wasted could also help its management so it can be diverted to soup kitchens instead, as Boroume organization is doing.

"There is clearly an ethical and major environmental issue. Each time we are throwing away food, we are throwing raw materials and the energy consumed to produce the food until it reaches our table. We are wasting food, because we purchase more than we need," Constantinos Abeliotis, Assistant Professor at the School of Environment, Geography and Applied Economics at Harokopio University of Athens, stressed in a relevant WWF Hellas educational video.

Maria Dandoulaki was a volunteer at Boroume and currently is working at the municipal social services-soup kitchen of the municipality of Halandri, a northern suburb of Athens.

The food saved with the support of Boroume covers almost entirely their program which has a total of 1,200 beneficiaries.

"It is a great joy for us and people here who are seeing their products not being wasted. For us, whatever they can offer is useful and precious," she told Xinhua.


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