When we held our first book fair 4 years ago, we did not envisage the political and economic turmoil that would engulf Greece. The purpose of the event was mainly a social gathering combined with an inexpensive way of acquiring books. We asked the members of MaM (madaboutmessinia.com) and others to gift their unwanted books and other items, and then pay one euro for each book they took away with them. The money generated was subsequently given to charity.
The first charity we chose was KAWS (Kalamata animal welfare society). We moved on to our second charity, dedicated to the protection of endangered Turtles that come ashore in the area each year to lay their eggs. Then we discovered our latest charity, one which we have been supporting for the last few years. It’s known as Pantopoleion Dimotiko which means the City Grocery .
Gina explains how the food store operates.
Interestingly, the original concept was initiated by the supermarket chain Carrefour in Athens, but the charity was set up in Kalamata in December 2008. The programme is coordinated through the Mayor’s office in Kalamata. Previously, the money we have made at the book fairs has been given to the Mayor’s office for them to allow the necessary provisions to be supplied to the centre. However, we thought it time we went along to see the operation for ourselves, and to show you how your donations are being spent.
The City Grocery is situated in the Council owned Technical Park in Kalamata and they remain there rent free. It’s actually in the first large building directly in front of the entrance if you intend to visit it. The operation is run only by volunteers and has grown to take up the whole ground floor of the building. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that it’s busy, very busy.
The clothes store
We were greeted by Gina, one of the many volunteers, who has been involved from the outset. We believe that she plays a pivotal role in the set up, although she was too modest to say so. She was generous with her time, giving us a comprehensive guided tour. Starting from just one small room, the charity has expanded to include an office, a small, fully stacked supermarket type area, a large clothing room, a shoe room and numerous storage areas.
The shoe store
To be able to take advantage of their services, people are strictly vetted, and only the most vulnerable and needy families are supported. To qualify, families must supply all the necessary papers to prove their income and what taxes they pay. They must show that their income does not exceed 7000 euros per annum. Once this is done the families remain on a waiting list and a home visit is arranged. Two volunteers visit their home for a final assessment of their circumstances. To give you an idea of how much demand there is, they are helping 350 families now with a backlog of 80 further families awaiting their home visit.
Olga, one of the volunteers, helps with the administration
Once all this information is collected, a 7 person committee sits and categorizes the needs of the family, depending on their circumstances. The most needy are provided with essential goods once a month, those better off are given provisions every two months or so, and the last category, those people in a slightly better position are given goods every three months. When the families collect their provisions they are given a piece of paper with their next ‘appointment’ date on it. Sometimes however, people turn up before their due date, pleading for an interim supply. Gina explained that they do not turn people away, but listen to their individual stories and provide them with what they need if they think it necessary.
Some of the big sponsors of the charity
Promoting the charity has so far proved very successful. They have a lot of support from local business, and of course from the Church, who donate such things as pasta given to them by the European Union. Skai TV is another important supporter, launching a campaign called ‘Ola mazi boroume’ which means ‘All together we can’, with collection boxes in supermarkets for people to donate. At Christmas they hold bazaars in the centre of Kalamata, selling cakes and the like.
The centre is open on a Tuesday but only to take in donations. They do not accept cash, but they will gladly take in anything else you may want to contribute, such as clothing. If you do decide to give to them, you would be better phoning them first. The families collect their provisions between 08.30 and 2pm each Thursday.
At the Cash and Carry with Giorgos and Katy
So, once we had met the volunteers and given the tour, and armed with the cash from the last few book fairs, we drove off to the cash and carry with Giorgos, who is in charge of the consumables, and Katy, another volunteer. There we purchased 672 tins of condensed milk, 500 bags of sugar and 60 bottles of shampoo. I must admit it’s so much more satisfying buying real products for the centre, rather than just handing over a cheque to a clerk in an office. Knowing the dedicated staff, knowing how the operation works, and seeing real products being handed over to real people, we got the sense of how worthy a cause this is, and all thanks to the generosity of the members of MadAboutMessinia.com.
If you wish to donate, or would like further information, click here. The information is in Greek, but if you use the Chrome browser it will translate the page for you.