In 2014, 14,000 families were receiving help from food banks, today there are just under 3,000. Fifty food banks provided those basic supplies, today 30 do.
The figures seem to reflect the official narrative that the economic crisis is over, but charities say many families are still struggling which means volunteers will be busy this Christmas ensuring those in need have food on the table and gifts for all children.
With Christmas around the corner, many organisations have already begun collecting money and food.
Yiannis Yiannaki, the official put in charge of the volunteer network as the crisis mushroomed after the bailout in 2013, said that many people are still living in poverty as state aid and meagre salaries are not enough to cover every need.
“There are many initiatives aiming to offer clothing, toys and food to families before Christmas,” Yiannaki told the Sunday Mail.
For the chairman of the Pancyprian Volunteerism Coordinative Council (PVCC), Stavros Olympios, said while the situation has improved compared to two or three years ago, low income families still need help buying toys and clothes for their children, even if they receive an allowance from the government. He added that several families that seek help are not beneficiaries of any state aid.
To meet those needs, the PVCC has launched for the fourth year its ‘Adopt a family for Christmas’ campaign calling on groups and individuals to offer all the basic items for the holiday season.
“The aim is for these families to celebrate Christmas just like everyone without being left wanting for anything,” Olympios said. “Last year around 1,000 families received the Christmas packages we had prepared.
“For this year, the goal is to help all families that already have or will seek help as the campaign which was launched on December 1 is ongoing until the 19th,” he said.
Olympios is confident that requests for help will be met as so many people are offering assistance compared to previous years.
“People’s response is moving. Companies, schools and private individuals have expressed interest in helping families in need,” Olympios said. He added that while most seeking help are Cypriot families there are foreign nationals as well.
“We do not turn away anyone. We do not discriminate against anyone. Before us we see humans,” Olympios said.
His organisation also oversees food banks and Olympios said that those seeking help do change. Those who no longer need the basic food supplies on offer because family finances have improved are replaced by new applicants seeking assistance. But he added that the numbers of newcomers are somewhat smaller than previously.
Alkionides charity foundation in Dali is among those who have been able to shut down their food bank, but the head of the group, Georgia Polyviou, explained why the other help the charity offers remains vital.
“The Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI) has helped many people, but it is still not enough for families especially with children. Furthermore, salaries are still low, which means people are struggling to make ends meet,” Polyviou said. “There are also still many people who are unemployed, especially in their 50s and 60s when it is almost impossible to find employment due to their age.”
For Christmas, the organisation has already given €12,000 worth of food coupons in Limassol, and will distribute coupons worth around €25,000 to those from the Nicosia district. These coupons are donated by supermarkets.
Alkionides is also running a ‘Fashion Bazaar’ – a shop located at 54 Makarios Avenue in Nicosia – where clothes and accessories are on sale from which the proceeds are given to people in need “in the form of food coupons and, help them pay utility bills and rent,” Polyviou said.
Father Isaac, who runs the long-running Limassol bishopric’s charity network, says that the number of people seeking help has not decreased, as some go and new ones arrive, but that he has noticed that more people are now in a position to offer help than they were previously.
The bishopric’s soup kitchen prepares meals for around 2,000 people every day.
“With GMI things have slightly improved but new cases appear,” Father Isaac said. He added that this year a lot more students – about 800 – are referred to him by the University of Technology’s welfare service for daily meals at the soup kitchen than last year.
The bishopric is also preparing Christmas packages for families. Father Issac said that like last year, they estimate that they will prepare around 700 such packages containing foodstuff, such as meat, pulses, pasta, flour, olive oil and cooking oil, sweets, as well as cleaning and personal hygiene products.
But the bishopric is also collecting clothes – new and used – which are also given year-round to those in need.
“People feel more confident in giving to their fellow human now as they feel better about their financial situation. It is very moving to see so many people, especially children coming to us with the intention to donate whatever they can,” Father Issac said. He added that recently a child gathered all of his toys and brought them to the bishopric to be given to children in need.
“Another child broke his piggy bank to give his savings to us to buy diapers and milk for families with babies.”
Many organisations have made calls for donations. Europa Donna Cyprus is also collecting food items in its ‘houses’ island wide for the Christmas tables of cancer patients. For more information: 22 490849, 24 664049, 25 878600, 26 251025.
For how you can help the Limassol bishopric’s charity office collect food and clothing items call 25 864315 and 25 864330.