On the breadline: how leftovers became a meal in Greece

Inspirational groups are finding companies with surplus food and giving it to people who need it

Alexandros Theodoridis, one of the founders of food-distribution group Boroume. Photograph: Giorgos Oikonomopoulos/Ta Nea

In the midst of the Greek economic crisis in 2011, a group of friends saved 12 cheese pies left over at a bakery in west Athens. They brought them to the local soup kitchen run by the church. Three and a half years later the group is co-ordinating the daily distribution of 4,000 or so portions of surplus food to charities all over Greece.

"I went to the two bakeries nearest my home, and they were only too delighted to help," says Xenia Papastavrou, who founded Boroume (which means We Can in Greek) with Alexia Moatsou and Alexandros Theodoridis. "An average bakery could have as much as 30kg of unsold bread at the end of the day. I told a soup kitchen three minutes away, and they couldn't believe their luck," she says.

In 2014 the group rescued more than 1.3 million meals from the garbage. This was a 400 per cent increase in the amount of food salvaged and distributed to those in need compared with 2013.

Estimating the average value of each portion of food at € 1.50, this amounts to a contribution of almost €2 million, say Boroume. “When we first set up our organisation we did not expect such a response or that we would be able to co-ordinate the collection and distribution of thousands of food portions per day,” says Theodoridis.

READ MORE

The salvage operation starts when someone calls Boroume with leftover food from a family dinner, corporate event or wedding reception, or from supermarket shelves. These donations, also sent through the group’s website, are then given to institutions in need.

Boroume has mapped all of the food-aid programmes in Greece and made the information available on its website. Its database now has more than 660 potential recipient organisations, such as soup kitchens, and more than 180 municipal social services around the country.

The organisation relies heavily on volunteers. About 30 volunteers supported the group each week in 2014, and 65 new volunteers were trained.

Last year the group launched an initiative to use fresh fruit and vegetables that cannot be sold and that would otherwise be left in fields to rot. Through this the team saved more than four tons of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Theodoridis says, “We are conducting meetings with farmers across the country to convince them not to let the agricultural produce they cannot sell go to waste. We emphasise that we organise for groups of volunteers to collect the produce according to strict rules, so that no damage to the crops is incurred.”

In Ireland, where one in 10 people lives in food poverty, Iseult Ward and Aoibheann O'Brien have set up a similar not-for-profit social enterprise, FoodCloud.

The pair estimate that Irish retailers produce about 87,000 tonnes of surplus food a year, most of it dumped at a cost of €8.5 million. FoodCloud also uses technology to link businesses that have excess food with charities.

When businesses have a food surplus they log on to the FoodCloud app and upload details of how much leftovers they have. Charities then receive a text with the details. If the charity accepts, volunteers transport the food from the business to the charity.

FoodCloud has facilitated the rescue of just under a million meals since the company was founded, in 2013. It helps about 300 charities, and about 10 tons of food is donated a week.

FoodCloud has just launched a partnership with FareShare, a similar organisation in Britain, to trial a FareShare FoodCloud app in 10 Tesco supermarkets. They hope to extend the app, which will work in a similar way to FoodShare in Ireland, across the UK.

Published as part of Impact Journalism Day, June 20th, 2015