NICOSIA – The depth of Cyprus’ growing economic crisis was apparent on Dec. 23 when even people in BMW’s shopped up to accept food stuffs and other necessities in Christmas packages handed out by the island’s Red Cross.
The organization said it handed out about 3,500 packages which contain 30 essential items such as sugar, oil, pulses, evaporated milk, canned meat, canned fish and toilet paper.
At the same time, as Cyprus Red Cross General Manager Takis Neophytou said every month about 1,675 bags with food provisions are offered to those in need, the Famagusta Gazette reported.
It seems that more and more families are turning to the Red Cross for help and Neophytou is clear that the Red Cross will accept any type of help. “We take whatever is brought to us and we distribute it depending on the needs at hand,” he said.
Last year there were 2,000 packages, he said while the group had to add another 400 packages this Christmas than originally planned and the Commissioner for Volunteering and Non-Governmental Organisations and the Cyprus Schools Parents Association notified the Red Cross that there are another 800 families which could use the help.
In an urgent bid volunteers at the Red Cross managed to compile approximately another 400 packages to be distributed before Christmas. The rest of the families will also receive their packages but after Christmas.
In the past, recent arrivals mainly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East filled the waiting room, but now Greek Cypriots of all stripes wait in line to receive food and clothing packages.
“Nowadays, we mostly help Cypriots. We see people coming here to collect food in BMWs and Mercedes,” Neophytou told Agence France Presse.
“A few months ago you can see that they would have had comfortable lives. It’s very sad.” He estimated that the Red Cross is now feeding 1,000 people monthly, up from 300 before the crisis.
The government in March had to ask international lenders for a 10 billion euro ($13.67 billion) bailout but that came with attached austerity measures that have sent unemployment soaring, and the confiscation of 47.5 percent of private accounts over 100,000 euros ($137,000) to make innocent account holders pay for mistakes the banks made. No banker has been prosecuted.
Many of those queueing were there for the first time to receive food, having recently lost jobs or been hit by the effects of the bailout deal on banks.
Costas Costaris, 48, an unemployed father of one, has lived in government housing since his family fled their home in the north during the Turkish invasion in 1974, but never needed help supporting his family before.
“Before, I worked as a lorry driver, and I did not need to come, but I have not worked since December,” he told AFP. “Now I’m just happy because there is someone helping us out now.” One single mother came to pick up food for herself and her four children because her social services payment was delayed this month.
“In little more than one hour, the bustling Nicosia depot handed out food parcels to over 40 people, but Fotini Papadopoulou, President of Cyprus’ Red Cross, warned that they were struggling to cope with the demand. “At the moment we cannot buy new food and clothing supplies because our account with Laiki Bank has been frozen,” she said.