Since the global economy crashed in 2009, many countries have had ups, downs and plateaus when it comes to regrowth. While many countries have rebounded, Greece has been unable to find its way out of the hole. The crisis continues, and with 20 percent unemployment and 27 percent of the population living below the poverty line, there is a bleak outlook on the future. On top of a volatile economic and political situation, Greece has been inundated with political refugees. Greece is a sharing culture, and for the most part, even those who have very little themselves are doing their best to help the refugees. But all those ingredients put together make a poor recipe – with many people in Greece not having enough to eat.
Fortunately, there are organizations of people who care and are organized enough to make a difference. One of these having a huge effect is Boroume, which translates to “we can.” The organization works throughout Greece to redistribute surplus food that would otherwise be wasted. Paste chatted with Nick Politakis, a Greek-American representative at a Baltimore law firm who has retired to the Vouliagmeni area of Athens.
To have the most effect, either staff or volunteers are available either by phone or email around the clock to help place food. Boroume is made up of 90 percent volunteers, and Politakis volunteers there three days a week. The group connects surplus food to anyone who has a need, whether they are citizens, immigrants or refugees. “Boroume has a computerized program where donors of food — companies, individuals, hotels, restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets — call or email saying what they have available, and Boroume matches them with a charity that is nearby or has a need for that type of food. They put the donor and charity in contact, and the food is placed. Boroume started in 2011, and became fully operational in 2012. Since then, it has saved close to 6 million portions of food.”
While the organization is based in Athens, Boroume’s net of support stretches far. Through its database of over 1,100 charities and municipal services, it is able to connect donors to charities from Northern Greece, west to the Peloponese, and even all the way to the eastern island of Rhodes. Politakis tells how many people who once didn’t have an issue feeding their families are now struggling to put food on the table, “Soup kitchens in Greece originally were set up by the church to help the elderly that didn’t have family members to prepare them a meal. Since the crisis started, people losing their jobs haven’t been able to get the food they need to feed their family. At first, they were too proud to go to soup kitchens, but it came to a point where they had to put pride aside and go to the soup kitchen. The way Boroume helps here is in providing food for the soup kitchens to prepare.”
Boroume is an umbrella that houses many efforts, and raising environmental awareness is also one of the organization’s goals. Politakis explains that, “Not only are there people in need that could use this food, but there’s the environmental issue of all this food that is being wasted, and you’re also wasting the land that helped produce it, the water, all the other resources that go into the production of food.” Through Boroume at School, it also finds a place in educating the next generation. “We teach kids in Greece at an early age about food waste and also about volunteerism. Volunteerism hadn’t been a big thing in Greece up until the crisis. Now, people are more in tune that there are a lot of needy people. They want to let kids know that this is something good for society to function better.”Beyond receiving donations and working with food businesses for surplus food, Boroume works with farms through Boroume Gleaning. Farms have produce that they can’t sell, and call Boroume for volunteers to head out to the farms and pick the fruit and vegetables that won’t go to market. “I participated in a few — pear picking, orange picking — and we gave them to charities in the area where we picked the fruit. The most recent one I did was oranges and they went to a home for the elderly in Corinth.”Connected to the farms are the farmers markets. Greece has a very strong farmers market tradition, with one taking place every week of every season in every area. Many of the farmers won’t sell the fruit after the farmers market, and Boroume volunteers will go and collect it for redistribution. On top of this, Boroume also takes food donations from individuals looking to help. Boroume’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Saving Food, a European Union program which began in January, has chosen seven organizations throughout Europe to collaborate on a pilot program for redistributing surplus food. Boroume is one of those seven.
While Greece continues to struggle, Politakis sees hope for Greece’s future, after the national debt is paid and the country can move past this moment in their history. Entrepreneurial Greeks are working hard on the export end. The group, New Wines of Greece, banded the boutique wineries together when the economy went south to bring their wine not just to locals but to the world. Greek olives have also seen a growth in sales. For those who don’t live in Greece but want to support the valiant efforts of Boroume, they can donate online and those residing in the US can receive a tax deduction. Another way is to buy the upcoming cookbook A Taste of Greece, written by Her Royal Highness, Princess Tatiana of Greece and Denmark. Many famous names – from Ariana Huffington to Nobu Matsuhisa – have contributed to the book. The majority of the work on the book was done pro-bono, and all the proceeds from its sale will go to Boroume to support its continued work.
To keep up with Boroume’s efforts, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Youtube.
Madina Papadopoulos is a New York-based freelance writer, author, and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.