By Maria Gregoriou
AS THE economic crisis grinds on, and state aid for the needy continues to fall far short of what is required, over-burdened charitable organisations are struggling to ensure that the help they provide is targeted at those most in need.
With no central body to oversee the logistics of providing help islandwide, the provision of essential items to poor families has fallen to a confusing mix of private, municipal and church run organisations.
Which organisation gives the most help varies widely according to region.
In Nicosia, the church is at the forefront of providing aid with the municipality doing its bit by helping to fund other charities.
In Limassol and Larnaca, the municipalities are more proactive by being directly in charge of organisations which help the needy.
In all regions, private charities – some receiving municipal funding and some not – are struggling to cope with a demand that keeps rising and is likely to spiral further as summer season employment comes to an end.
The Archbishopric in Nicosia runs an extensive community market and asks priests in each parish in the Nicosia area to prepare a list of needy families. The Archbishopric then prepares boxes of food to be collected by the priests every month at different times. More than 2,000 families are being helped at the moment.
“The church funds the essentials and we also receive some funding from organisations or the general public, but these people cannot make donations all the time as they also have their own needs,” said member of the Archbishopric’s welfare committee, Michalis Spryou.
With the church so active in the capital, Strovolos and Nicosia municipalities focus instead on giving funding to parishes or charity organisations. Strovolos works with ten parishes and the support centre for Kykkos monastery while Nicosia municipality provides funding to the not-for-profit charity organisations Angaliazo and Polidinamos.
Angaliazo, for example, supplies food to needy families and helps 450 to 500 people each month.
“We give out food that will last for 15 days twice a month. Needs have increased lately and we have had to send some families away as we have to first feed our existing 500 families,” said volunteer Erica Vasiliou.
Other municipalities are more hands-on, providing direct help and performing their own evaluation on a family’s requirements.
Larnaca municipality gives food out to around 450 families who are legible for help every Friday. Food is received from supermarkets and volunteers.
Limassol municipality works on a volunteer basis and the stock of goods they give away at the community market are given to them by organisations and citizens.
“We used to help 40 families. Now this number has increased to 400. We try not to turn anyone away and we give priority to families with young children,” municipal officer Evie Tsolaki said.
In these areas, the role of the church is more limited and comes in the form of providing cooked food in soup kitchens or as sandwiches to students in schools.
Ayia Napa municipality works with the church to know what each family needs and supplies are taken to their homes. The municipality is finding it difficult to keep up with demand but some funding has been cut from other areas to keep this help running.
In Paphos, aid distribution is more evenly balanced between the church, municipality and at least one private charity.
Food and other essentials are not the only way Limassol musicality provides help, it also offers counselling for people who are looking for a job or for people who are having a hard time coping with depression. A similar programme is run by the volunteer group Vagoni Agapis in Nicosia which also helps around 200 families by providing food or paying for bills.
With more people being forced to seek help and, in some cases, supplies becoming less, charities have seen a growing trend of people going from one community market to a volunteer group and then another, trying to take food from each.
To counter abuse of the system, the volunteerism coordinative council of Nicosia is putting together a database of needy people who ask for help from charity organisations that are a member of the council.
“We have a system called Kivotos 2013. Each organisation that is signed up with us, and who wants to, provides the necessary information about those they help. For example, if they are unemployed and the number of children in each family,” said council official Natasa Nicholaou.
People who have been approved receive a card. Every time they go to a charity for items, the charity signs the card and specifies when and the amount of essentials given.
The information is also added into the computer system, so that if someone goes to another charity organisation the next day, they can see the person has already been helped.
“The idea is that as needs are many, everyone can have the chance to receive help and those who are receiving more than they should will receive the amount they are entitled to,” Nicholaou said.
In places where municipalities are the major source of aid, recipients have to complete a form with their financial information to be checked and approved. Every three to six months, the families’ financial situations are re-evaluated.
But some overworked charities are becoming frustrated with those they believe are taking advantage.
“Lately people look at us as if we are boxes of food and they have the idea that we have to help them,” said Carina Savva, president of Funraising, a charitable, non-profit association in Limassol that helps families with under-aged children.
“Some people have never had to work because they were getting government benefits and now that these have been cut, they do not know how to work,” she said.
With funding down, she said Funraising can only help those who are truly needy.
Funraising’s philosophy was to help people for as long as they needed help, without a cut-off date, but now this is being reconsidered.
But a spokeswoman for the long-established Alkionides charity said in her experience only a tiny amount of people attempt to abuse the system.
“It takes a lot of courage to accept help, especially if you had a job a few months ago and were used to providing for your family,” said spokeswoman Kyriaki Demetriou.
The charity, with its warehouse in Dali where it keeps its supplies for people to go and pick up essentials, helps around one thousand families from all over Cyprus.
And even if some are taking advantage, Demetriou believes this should not be the main issue.
“We help those who need our help, and if a few of them are not so needy and fall through the cracks, it doesn’t really matter because we have to concentrate on the bigger picture,” Demetriou said.