Food distribution at Elaionas site in Greece. PHOTO: DRC

Distribution of food is not ‘one size fits all’

Food is a basic human need – not least for people who have had their life uprooted and are living in new and unfamiliar environments. Across the world, millions of refugees are food insecure, making food distribution an essential part of supporting any area, hosting large numbers of people who have sought refuge. In Greece, people of concern come from a number of different cultures and their needs vary greatly.


Seven days a week, the Danish Refugee Council ensures that refugees and asylum seekers have food on the table, in several sites throughout Greece, when independent cooking is not an option available to the population.


“Food is a basic issue for the refugees. We distribute food to everyone in the sites where we work, two times a day”, explains Ziad, DRC’s distribution coordinator. “Lunch and dinner include hot meals, while breakfast is prepacked and served the previous day.”


In order to address the protection and basic needs of people who have sought refuge in Greece, DRC has distributed food in several Greek sites, such as Elliniko, Eleonas, Lavrio, Schisto (Attica region) and Lagadikia (North region) with support from the European Union Humanitarian Aid (ECHO).


“The last days of distribution in Eleonas site, around 150 people had gathered around the gate, during  dinner distribution, thanking us for being there and asking us to stay”, Ziad remembers. “The impact of our work is very direct, during any kind of distribution to beneficiaries. We can see that it makes people happy”.


People of concern living in Greek sites come from a vast number of places and cultures. This makes dialogue with members of the different communities of refugees particularly important, in order to ensure that the menu is culturally appropriate. While the populations of the sites are grateful for the food distribution, it is important to be aware of their culture, respect their diets and any prohibitions of consumption of food, due to religious reasons.


“When we begin distributing in a site, we organize focus group discussions with the communities of the beneficiaries”, Ziad states, explaining that their feedback is always taken into consideration, in order to address challenges and assess the quality and the quantity of the meals.


Cultural awareness resolves most obstacles that may occur during distribution of goods. This was the case in Elliniko, which was one of the first mainland sites that operated in Greece. Before the Danish Refugee Council undertook the food distribution, many meals were wasted, either due to poor food quality or because the population was unfamiliar with the food items being served. “At first, we were not familiar with the culturally appropriate meals for all beneficiaries in Elliniko site. We discussed with the communities and we agreed upon the menu and the way the food should be cooked, in collaboration with our catering company” Ziad stresses.


“Special meals for beneficiaries who have specific needs, such as people with illnesses, are also available” he notes. DRC staff assesses the population in the camp and collaborate with the Greek Ministry, in order to form a list of the beneficiaries who require special attention. For instance, during the food distribution in Eleonas, DRC was asked to provide food to five persons of concern, who were diabetic and had to follow a specific diet.


The food distribution typically ends, when beneficiaries are supported alternatively, e.g. when families or individuals receive cash assistance for food or kitchen supplies. Specifically, the Danish Refugee Council coordinates with other stakeholders in sites where Site Management Support is provided, so as to monitor the smooth transition of the population to independent cooking. Specifically, DRC continues supporting this process, by providing cooking equipment to people, when they first arrive in the site.


Everyday activities, such as cooking in communal spaces of the site or as part of a family life, allow people to gradually engage in household activities, getting one step closer to regaining control and adjusting to life in Greece.