The Euro Legacy: In Greece, Children Pick Through Trash Cans For Food

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"We have reached a point where children are coming to school hungry," as with an estimated 10% of Greek elementary and middle school students suffering from 'food insecurity', the troubled nation has fallen to the level of some African countries. As the NY Times reports, unlike the US, Greek schools do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Exacerbated by the austerity measures including cuts in subsidies for larger families, the cost has become insurmountable for many. With 26% of Greek households on an 'economically weak diet', children are starting to steal for food and picking through trash cans as they proclaim, "our dreams are crushed." What is frightening is the speed at which it is happening, "a year ago it wasn't like this," as one family talks of the 'cabbage-based diet' which it supplements by foraging for snails in nearby fields. Programs are being started to help from wealthier Greeks, but as one parent said, "unless the EU acts, we're done for."

 

Via NY Times,

As an elementary school principal, Leonidas Nikas is used to seeing children play, laugh and dream about the future. But recently he has seen something altogether different, something he thought was impossible in Greece: children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.

 

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“Not in my wildest dreams would I expect to see the situation we are in,” Mr. Nikas said. “We have reached a point where children in Greece are coming to school hungry. Today, families have difficulties not only of employment, but of survival.”

 

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Last year, an estimated 10 percent of Greek elementary and middle school students suffered from what public health professionals call “food insecurity,” ... “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries,” she said.

 

Unlike those in the United States, Greek schools do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Students bring their own food or buy items from a canteen. The cost has become insurmountable for some families with little or no income. ...

 

... classmates are frequently hungry, she said, and one boy recently fainted. Some children were starting to steal for food, she added. While she does not excuse it, she understands their plight. “Those who are well fed will never understand those who are not,” she said.

 

“Our dreams are crushed,” added Evangelia, whose parents are unemployed but who is not in the same dire situation as her peers. She paused, then continued in a low voice. “They say that when you drown, your life flashes before your eyes. My sense is that in Greece, we are drowning on dry land.”

 

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This year the number of malnutrition cases jumped. “A year ago, it wasn’t like this,” Ms. Perri, said, fighting back tears. “What’s frightening is the speed at which it is happening.”

 

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Mr. Petrakis said he felt emasculated after repeatedly failing to find new work. When food for the family ran low, he stopped eating almost entirely, and rapidly lost weight.

 

“When I was working last summer, I even threw away excess bread,” he said, tears streaming down his face. “Now, I sit here with a war running through my head, trying to figure out how we will live.”

 

When the hunger comes, Ms. Petrakis has a solution. “It’s simple,” she said. “You get hungry, you get dizzy and you sleep it off.”

 

A 2012 Unicef report showed that among the poorest Greek households with children, more than 26 percent had an “economically weak diet.” The phenomenon has hit immigrants hardest but is spreading quickly among Greeks in urban areas where one or both parents are effectively permanently unemployed.

 

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He has not found work for three years. Now, he said, his family is living on what he called a “cabbage-based diet,” which it supplements by foraging for snails in nearby fields. “I know you can’t cover nutritional basics with cabbage,” he said bitterly. “But there’s no alternative.”

 

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“I’m not saying we should just wait for others to help us,” he said. “But unless the European Union acts like this school, where families help other families because we’re one big family, we’re done for.”