BOSTON, MA – The homeless and the hungry, the poor and the lonely, downtrodden from the difficulties of life in the city of Haverhill, MA to the point that they are hard-pressed to scrounge up even a plate of food, found their angel seven years ago in the person of Victoria Skrivanos the ever-smiling girl with a good heart.
At age 11, while other girls were playing carefree, Skrivanos started a great mission of purpose and meaning: feeding the homeless and unprivileged. She was in the seventh grade when she started and today at 18 – a senior at the prominent Phillips Academy in Andover, MA – she exhibits the same zeal and dedication.
Skrivanos was taught the love and interest in cooking and good food from her grandparents, Antonios and Garifalia.
“I started the program seven years ago,” she says. “I was 11 years old in the 7th grade at the time. My grandparents are from Greece and my grandfather had a restaurant when he came here and food has been such a big part of my life. Cooking is my favorite thing to do. I love cooking, so I was trying to figure out a way to help those less fortunate and I thought: why not include one of my biggest passion, which is cooking” and help to change lives?
“I went to my grandfather, Antonios, and told him and he became very excited, and he said ‘this is great, let’s do this.’ We went to the Church of Holy Apostles Saints Peter and Paul and told them about the idea. They gave us a hall and a kitchen and we’ve done it ever since. It started very, very small and it has grown.” It is Skirvanos’ operation, not the Church’s, though she uses that Church’s facilities.
“My parents were also very excited and that was another reason that I wanted to start it, because my parents always placed big emphasis on community services and giving back. That was their message since I was little, so I knew that I really wanted to help; they instilled that value in me.”
Skrivanos started it all by herself: “I wrote a letter and I sent it to every single person that I knew; I sent it to all my friends at school, to all their parents, to all my neighbors, all my teachers, all my parents’ friends, all my tennis coaches, basically to every single person I met. I said ‘my name is Victoria I am starting this new project I am going to feed the homeless would you help me? Would you donate? Would you volunteer?’ And I got a great response and as of now we have raised $25,000.”
She said “now a lot of businesses want to donate the food. Panera bakery donates the bread, a lot of people volunteer to bake goods; I bake cookies and cupcakes. The volunteers are from the church; people have contacted me and asked ‘can we come to volunteer?’ and everyone is welcome. The more hands, the better.
“We give them top-quality food: there is always salad, there is always bread; sometimes we do pork with potatoes and vegetables; other times spaghetti and meatballs. Meatloaf, chicken sandwiches, rice. Every month my pappou and I come up with the menu together.”
The meals are on the last Saturday of every month. “I get there about 6AM but the actual serving starts about 11:30. We are there pretty much all day getting ready. So many people are willing to get involved and help in any way they can.”
The majority of the guests are homeless or are financially struggling. Skrivanos said “we see a lot of families. A lot of times we forget that people my own age are homeless and it really makes you appreciate your life and feel more thankful. We see people from all different backgrounds.
“I always go back to that first feeding, I was imagining in my head hundreds of people to line up and I was excited, but not too many people came the first time and I thought ‘oh no if it is failure what am I going to do?’ One man came up to me and said: ‘if it wasn’t for you I would not eat today.’ His words left an impression on me. I know I can’t fix homelessness, I know I can’t feed every single person in the world, as much as I want to, but I can do my part. What I learn is that every little contribution matters”.
Skrivanos is proud of her Hellenic heritage: “Actually, one of my happiest memories is when I went to see my grandfather and grandmother village in Greece in Sykea Molaoi. That is where my love of food and cooking began. My grandmother who taught me how to cook passed away in March.”
Another lesson Skrivanos has learned is that every person has a story. It is not as if homeless persons have been that way all their lives. “I met homeless persons who were teachers, athletes, college professors,” she notes.