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Yes We Can A Greek Food for Thought Story

All we hear about today is the horrendous amount of food that is thrown away and wasted by the commercial retailers as well as households. And then again the alarming news that because of the longest recession in living memory, food banks have never been so well patronised. Tia Dania tells an inspiring story of Boroume, that miraculously offers a practical solution to these two conundrums

In a European country blessed with rich soil, endless sunshine and abundance of food, almost 30% of the Greek population is living below the poverty line and unemployment has reached 27.7%.  According to Unicef, the number of children living in poverty in Greece places them 30th among some of the world’s 35 developed economies. These statistics are unprecedented in Greece, and due to problems of their own making the government has been unable to handle the basic requirement of feeding citizens who are too poor to do so.

The love of communal eating with family and friends plays a major role in Greek society, yet Xenia Papastavrou, a working mother living in Athens, regularly witnessed large quantities of perfectly edible food being thrown away while young children were going hungry. That was in 2011, when Xenia conceived the idea that if the food could be redistributed to those who needed it, it would decrease wastage and help to nourish those who did not have the means to do so.

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As a result of this idea, “Boroume”, a new organisation meaning “We Can” was born, which stepped in to fill the vacuum, bringing together surplus food to those who needed it.  Xenia Papastavrou was joined by two co-founders, Alexander Theodoridis and Alexia Moatsou, who together set up an office in Athens which opened in January 2012, and which has now become a vital hub, facilitating connections between supplier and receiver.

Because of Xenia’s upbeat and positive message, together with the combined effort of the many volunteers, Boroume has received assistance from many businesses that have made donations. To furnish the offices for example, IKEA supplied everything to completely fit it out – so much so, in fact, that Boroume staff affectionately call it the ‘House of Boroume’ because it has such a genuine feeling of being at home.  On the technical side the esteemed Bodossaki Foundation offered computers needed for internet access and the installation of a vital database.  Volunteers run the office, whilst steady streams of others constantly get in touch with Boroume to offer their services.

The operating process Boroume devised was a simple one, which has contributed to their tremendous success. Their main goal was to establish themselves as intermediaries, facilitating connections between food suppliers who wanted to discard food – such as bakeries, supermarkets, hotels, and restaurants – with those parts of the community who needed the food such as orphanages, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and many other welfare institutions.  Boroume now has a total of over 700 welfare institutions on file.

The success of Boroume is primarily the result of the efforts of Xenia Papastavrou, its co-founders Alexander and Alexia, and its many enthusiastic volunteers. What is so special about its achievements is the simplicity and efficiency of its modus operandi.

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Here is how it works.  Every day Boroume records the needs of welfare institutions and those people requiring help.  They also constantly make a record of businesses wishing to donate their surplus food.  A search is then made for the location closest to both donor and recipient.  To do this, Boroume further enhanced a simple search method by installing a Google map on their website www.boroume.gr, showing location of supplier addresses, so that recipients can easily gain access to their donor with the minimum of effort.  The database and map are continuously updated during the day and late into the night.

Boroume has found this beneficial, both in terms of being the easiest and quickest way to connect, but also of promoting and strengthening relationships within the neighbourhood.

As proof of their dedication to the work they are doing, the Boroume staff is still in the office at 11.00 pm as they frequently will receive calls from restaurants late in the evening…and so they can be there to make the necessary arrangements.  Many newly married couples also will call in at the end of their wedding reception to offer their surplus food.

Currently, Boroume is helping hundreds of welfare organisations to find the food they need. It has now reached the incredible figure of distributing 1,000 meals per day.  All this is done with private donations from Greek citizens and foreign donors throughout the world who have been impressed with Boroume’s positive message. The donors are regular people – a typical touching story is that of a Danish couple who often holiday in Greece and who heard about Boroume on the radio.  They offered to pay the rent for several months when Boroume moved to new offices.

The organisation is entirely dependent on donations and volunteers, receiving no funding from the Greek government. Fortunately, a happy outcome of its simple and highly efficient  operational model is that sometimes the two parties of supplier and receiver choose to continue the process without any further involvement from Boroume.

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The numbers of those suppliers joining Boroume in their quest to feed the needy is constantly rising, as is the number of people who have been helped. Just to give an indication of the scope of their reach: between 2,000 and 6,000 people receive assistance on a weekly basis through Boroume, and the daily figure of 1,000 meals per day has recently been surpassed.

More statistics – over 200 companies, and 80 catering businesses have offered food and produce on a regular basis.  A total of 25 hotels in Attica offer an average of 50 meals per week as well as other needed items such as linen, curtains, appliances and other equipment.  A total of 700 charity organisations and soup kitchens are serviced by Boroume. Communication and cooperation with social services have been made in 120 municipalities.  More than 650 volunteers from 20 different parts of Greece have signed up to help in any way they can.  Twenty volunteers offer their time on a weekly basis in the office. People from 11 countries including Canada, USA, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Singapore, South Africa, France and the UK have given donations via Boroume to families in need.

Fully supported initially by volunteers offering their time, determination and endless positive energy, Boroume’s status is now that of an NGO (non-governmental organisation), all started by founder Xenia Papastavrou’s refusal to believe that food wastage was something she could accept.

From humble beginnings, Boroume has managed to achieve the respect of all parties concerned and has reached the attention of the press outside the boundaries of its activities in Greece. Articles about them have appeared both in the Greek press as well as many others, including the Guardian and Huffington Post.

The story of Boroume is all the more remarkable considering volunteering in Greece was not viewed as necessary in the past  due to a culture of close-knit family ties which took care of its own. With the economy in freefall – and the ensuing high unemployment – families are now unable to support each other. To encourage awareness, Boroume’s office welcomes unemployed volunteers to further the spirit of volunteerism by offering them the opportunity to work with them.  Volunteering is now flourishing in many parts across Greece and groups are being created that have quickly mobilised to help others.

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Within every hardship – and that includes Greece’s financial situation – it seems there is an opportunity for change, for the discovery of a different way of doing and seeing things.  New alliances are formed and awareness of possibilities to improve our world presents itself.

Boroume has showed by example that if we have a noble idea and a deep conviction to serve, the circumstances will emerge to help us realise our vision.  The spirit of giving is like seeds that require time and patience and the efforts of many to nourish an orchard that will grow to feed all those taking care of it and beyond.

 

Website (in English):  http://www.boroume.gr/en/  

Facebook.  https://www.facebook.com/Boroume  

This post is also available in: Inglés Italiano

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