Since the Solidarity charity began handing out food packages in Paphos last year, more destitute families have been turning up each week, unable to support themselves as businesses went under, jobs were lost, and prices soared while meagre welfare payments remained the same.
But even its founder, Pavlina Patsalou Menelaou, was surprised by the numbers turning up at the door yesterday morning, when the distribution centre reopened for the first time since a punishing bailout deal was struck in Brussels. “We were expecting to feed 88 families – an extra 30 families came,” said Ms Menelau.
These people are not the Russian oligarchs or wealthy bankers the EU insisted pay their share towards the €5.8bn Cyprus had to come up with.
The pensioners, single mothers and unemployed don’t know if the next welfare payment will arrive in all the turmoil, or have been unable to access their cash and didn’t have anywhere else to turn.
“This Christmas, there was no food, no presents for the children – nothing,” said Theresa Evripidon, 24, whose husband has been out of work for two years. She is trying to support her seven-year-old daughter on a welfare payment of €600 a month, but after rent, soaring electricity costs and other bills, they are left with just a handful of euros. She said she was “very worried” about what the future might bring, with the Brussels deal expected to send unemployment soaring above the current level of 14 per cent. “Many people will go hungry,” Ms Evripidon warned.
And while the people turning to Solidarity don’t have the luxury of worrying about the deposits over €100,000 being frozen in the banks, Cypriots reaching retirement do not know if or when they will be able to access their nest eggs. “You think they are rich people?” asked one businessman. “It is people who’ve worked hard all their lives, this is their savings. If you have €100,000, it means you have worked a lifetime.”
Many middle-class Cypriots admit that perhaps they took the cheap loans too easily, but there is anger that the wrong people are being punished. “They take the money from the people who saved for their old age,” said Andry Lambrou, 47, a hotel administrator. “Those who went out and bought diamonds, they still have their money.”