We have reached a point where children are coming to school hungry,” as with an estimated 10% of Greek elementary and middle school students suffering from ‘food insecurity’, the troubled nation has fallen to the level of some African countries. As the NY Times reports, unlike the US, Greek schools do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Exacerbated by the austerity measures including cuts in subsidies for larger families, the cost has become insurmountable for many. With 26% of Greek households on an ‘economically weak diet’, children are starting to steal for food and picking through trash cans as they proclaim, “our dreams are crushed.” What is frightening is the speed at which it is happening, “a year ago it wasn’t like this,” as one family talks of the ‘cabbage-based diet’ which it supplements by foraging for snails in nearby fields. Programs are being started to help from wealthier Greeks, but as one parent said,“unless the EU acts, we’re done for.”
As an elementary school principal, Leonidas Nikas is used to seeing children play, laugh and dream about the future. But recently he has seen something altogether different, something he thought was impossible in Greece: children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.