The economic crisis in Greece has shrunk the country’s economy, cost tens of thousands of jobs and led the government to impose severe austerity measures. Now, a group of Greek New Yorkers is mobilizing to help Greece's most vulnerable survive the harsh economic times
The newly-formed non-profit, Hellenic Relief Foundation, is raising money to provide families in need with food, which many have been unable to afford since the debt crisis plunged the small Mediterranean nation’s economy into a deep and enduring recession.
“We just purely are trying to help those groups which are really suffering right now,” said Dr. Nicholas Mezitis, an executive board member of the foundation. “We're talking right now youth unemployment over 50 percent. We're talking about elderly pensioners who have seen 30 percent and 40 percent reductions in their living standard, people who are not getting heating oil.”
On Thursday, a 77-year-old retiree publicly killed himself outside an Athens subway station near Parliament during rush hour. In his suicide note, the man said he could not survive on his pension.
Eurostat, the official European Union statistics office, pegs the December unemployment rate for Greece’s under-25’s at 50.4 percent and the general unemployment rate at 21 percent. Both figures are double what they were just two years ago.
Homelessness, which had not been an evident problem in Greece prior to the crisis, has risen 25 percent since 2009, to an estimated 20,000 — half of them on the streets of Athens.
The Hellenic Relief Foundation collects monetary donations, then travels to Greece, where volunteers purchase and package local non-perishable staples, including olive oil, lentils, beans, flour and sugar. Each package, which costs the foundation about $20, is intended to last a family about a month.
The group said it has already helped 450 families through two trips over the past two months mostly through donations that totaled $19,000 by board members and other groups.
Mezitis said 100 percent of donations go directly to needy families, because any overhead is covered by the foundation’s board members and volunteers.
“There is no administrative cost,” Mezitis said, “because the cost of the travel and the stay in Greece to supervise and purchase the goods is all covered by themselves.”
The group wants to help another 500 families in Greece by Orthodox Easter, and is broadening its appeal to the public. Donations can be made at the foundation’s website.
Mezitis said their current goal “is to make sure that our grandmothers and our family members and our brethren in need are able to survive and also look forward to some future.”