By Victoria Skrivanos, GWU May 2019
Eight years ago, I started Food For Friends, a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless in and around my local community. On the Last Saturday of each month, Food For Friends hosts a lunch/dinner at the Greek Orthodox Church in my community.
Cooking has always been a huge part of my life. My father’s family is from a small town in Greece and when they came to America they opened a Greek diner. My Papous (Greek for Grandfather) was the person that taught me how to cook. When he is not cooking, he’s eating. When he is not eating, he is telling other people to eat. My best childhood memories are the times I spent with Papous in the kitchen—making homemade bread, baking spinach pie, rolling out the dough for cookies, spending hours on Thanksgiving dinner, and cooking all our favorite Greek dishes (which have names I can’t even think about spelling!). Cooking brought us together and is the reason why we have such a great relationship today.
As I grew older, it became clear that not everyone was able to spend time in a kitchen with family members. Furthermore, not everyone had access to a hot meal and a roof over their head. I couldn’t imagine a life without family dinners and all the laughs and memories they brought with it. I went to my parents with an idea: to start my own soup kitchen. Papous would be the chef, I would assist and I would also do all the fundraising. I thought I had it all figured out.
Several months later, after calling and asking for donations from just about everyone I knew, I hosted my first feeding. After hours of cooking I expected to be greeted with hundreds of homeless people who were cold and eager to eat. To my disappointment maybe five people came to the first feeding. I was so distraught. I had put so much work in and barely anybody had come. At that moment, I did not want to host another feeding again. As I was cleaning up the dishes and packaging up what seemed to be hundreds of pounds of leftovers, one of the five homeless people came to talk to me. This man said to be, “If it wasn’t for you, I would not have eaten today”. I cannot even to begin to explain how this man’s words have affected me. This man showed me that as much as I want to, I am not going to solve homelessness overnight. I cannot feed every homeless person in the world, but I can do my part. Five fewer people went to bed hungry that night because of Papous and me and all those who volunteered with us.
During the past eight years, Food For Friends has grown from feeding 5 people each month to now feeding 120-140 people each month. Food For Friends has opened my eyes in so many ways. It is the thing I most proud of. Food is something that brings families, friends, and communities together. Many of the people we feed every month are homeless and don’t have the opportunity to eat at a dinner table every night with their families. When they sit down at the feedings, not only do they have a nice hearty meal, but they also have the chance to make conversation with friends, laugh with their kids, and relax. One woman at the feeding last month said, “When I am here with my family, we are eating good food and we are having a good time…this doesn’t happen very often.” Food For Friends has also opened my eyes to what homelessness really is. There is not one definition of homelessness. Not everyone who is homeless sleeps on park benches at night and begs for spare change in the day. I have met doctors, athletes and professors who have become homeless because of different circumstances. One of the most important things I have learned is that we need to break down these stereotypes and work on treating everyone with respect and humility regardless of their circumstance. I truly believe that if everyone does a little, together we can truly have a big impact.