Post originally appeared on Cyprus Mail.
Far more people have been in need of help this Easter compared to last year with numbers reaching at least 12,000 families who were relying on food banks and charities to pass the holiday, volunteer commissioner Yiannis Yiannaki said.
Volunteers at several food banks described the days leading up to the holiday as complete chaos. They said they were working 12-hour days to ensure that every family needing help received it.
Feelings were bittersweet while on one hand the level of donations was overwhelming the extent of poverty some Cypriots are facing is gut-wrenching, volunteer at Adopt a Family for Easter, Petroula Petrou said.
“Even though I’ve been doing this for 16 years there were still moments when ‘I couldn’t help but cry’.”
The numbers however are an indication that the economy is no way getting better, deputy director of the Pancyprian Volunteerism Coordinative Council Elias Demetriou said.
“A lot more people need help compared to last year and in no way are we over the crisis,” he added. He said he hated the fact that some people felt too humiliated to get help from charities.
“People have reached their breaking point so even though a lot of them hate it, the taboo is slowly going away because they have no other choice,” he said.
Petrou observed a similar pattern where people swallowed their pride not for themselves but for their children as they were left with no option. In some instances, she added, the organisation had received phone calls from neighbours or relatives of needy families, asking that they intervene because many refused to seek handouts.
The rules are pretty clear however in that applications need to be made directly to charities from the individuals in need, to avoid scams or people receiving aid from several different organisations across many towns.
In Larnaca, chaos ensued in the final days leading up to Easter, even with people not eligible for help standing outside desperately hoping for food.
A Cyprus Mail eyewitness who was visibly upset said he even saw children as young as seven years-old getting a small bag of potatoes and haggling for a few more.
“I have a child that age too and my stomach is churning at the thought. It’s terrible, absolutely terrible to see what conditions we’ve fallen to,” he said.
Food bank manager in Larnaca Kokos Yerasinou reiterated the same line most organisations used in other cities. “Things are getting worse.”
Particularly after the demise of Cyprus Airways, he has observed far more families are in need of support in Larnace, estimating them at over 600 people.
The food bank has helped about 2,500 people by offering bags of basic goods. Specifically one bag contains pasta, barley, rice, sugar and pourgouri and the second bag contains bread, milk, trahana, juice and halloumi.
People also received one kilo of meat per person, flaounes, toilet paper, oil, wine potatoes and a rich variety of vegetables. Families with more than six members are eligible to receive two bags with the second list of items.
Yerasinou however felt terrible that there were people he felt needed help but did not pass the criteria imposed by the social welfare committee.
“I will personally make sure that whatever food is left will go to these people. We don’t want to waste anything or keep any member of society hungry, especially these days.”
Evi Tsolaki from the Limassol food bank insists that there is not a single family in need of help that is being denied the necessities they need. “We only turn away people that we feel can make it without our help,” she said, citing an example of a retired woman that applied for help but was receiving €678 per month from the state.
Naturally, her application was rejected Tsolaki said, as although the amount may not have been adequate for many things, it was certainly enough to live on. She stressed that the role of the food bank was to help people that would resort to trawling through the garbage if it wasn’t for their help.
Tsolaki and several of the volunteers stressed that as much as people could, they should economise at home. “It looks bad if you’re trying to be eligible for aid but have a phone bill of €70. Why is it so high? Everyone should first try to manage their own finances.”
This of course would mean cutting back on pricey cigarettes, fancy hair treatments and flashy nails. Yerasinou stipulated.
The aid dispersed across the country needed to go wherever it was really needed, Tsolaki said citing a family of 11 people that had a monthly income of €500 as a real example of people who depended on – and received help.
As church bells chime and people light their candles, volunteers find comfort in that no matter how bleak the situation is, people’s hearts have not yet turned to stone and Cypriots are still offering their help to those in need.
An old man with a field delivered a bag of lemons, people donated their salary bonuses, producers freely gave lamb, milk, flaounes, tsourekia and bread and even hotels offered free meals to needy families.
Several well-known figures humbly offered donations opting to remain anonymous while political parties gave cheques under the glare of television cameras.