Let’s feed the economies, not the landfills. This is the motto of the Food Bank Macedonia, which for 12 years has been fighting tirelessly against dumping food as waste and against hunger in North Macedonia. Meta.mk talked with Dushko Hristov, founder and general manager of this organization, during a period when they were preparing the monthly packages that are distributed to the socially endangered persons in the municipality of Centar, in the capital Skopje.
Food Bank Macedonia is collecting the food surpluses from all food operators, such as producers, distributors, supermarkets and restaurants, and its sorting, storing and distribution to the socially endangered persons. This food bank is a member of the European Food Banks Federation, a network of over 420 food banks.
“For almost 12 years serving as a food bank in the field civil activism in Macedonia, we managed to collect and distribute over 2 000 tons of food,” said Dushko Hristov for Meta.mk.
From their beginnings to date, over 22 different companies participated in the efforts of this food bank. Today, Food Bank Macedonia has 7 regular supporters who on monthly basis are showing their humanity and are donating food products that are distributed to the people in need.
Hristov stressed that the people are aware of Food Bank Macedonia as an organization, and therefore in August this year there were over 20 phone calls from people who decided to donate food surpluses from weddings, celebrations, funerals, and their organization has taken over and distributed these surpluses to their final beneficiaries in time.
While the world is wasting food, some people are starving
According to the data from the UN’s Environment Program – UNEP, up to 17% of the world food production in 2021 ended dumped in a landfill. The Food Waste Index Report for 2021 shows that 61% of the food waste comes from the households, 26% from the food producers and 13% from the sale points. Macedonia doesn’t have exact statistical data about the quantities of food that end as waste annually, since the State Statistical Office (SSO) lists it in the Organic waste category, which also includes the collected tree leaves and other materials for composting.
Nevertheless, the poverty rate in North Macedonia is striking. According to SSO’s latest data, the poverty rate in 2020 was 21.8% i.e., 451,900 people live below the poverty line. In 2020, in Macedonia there were 32,345 households that were social welfare beneficiaries. The number of minors who were beneficiaries of social welfare was 16,262 persons, together with 49.263 adult beneficiaries of social welfare. This data refers to the period preceeding the current global energy and economic crisis, which this year has caused drastic spikes in the prices of basic food products, electricity, oil derivatives and the gas.
Dushko Hristov says that the situation with the poverty and the food shortage is worsening, during times when the value of the consumer basket in July 2022 rose to MKD 47,042, according to the latest data published by the Alliance of the Trade Unions of Macedonia. This crisis was preceded by the COVID-19 pandemic, when during a period of one year, the bank distributed 819 individuale food packages to families or individuals that lost their jobs.
Municipalities of Centar and Kavadarci are the most eager for cooperation
Food Bank Macedonia can distribute between 10 and 12 tons of food monthly. Its founder says that two 2 municipalities in North Macedoniay – the municipality of Center in Skopje and the municipality of Kavadarci, have collaborated continuously and without problems with the food bank.
“We have been allocating 150y packages monthly in the municipality of Centar since 2018 which is 4th or 5th year in a roll,” explains Hristov about the monthly food packages that the socially endangered persons from this municipality have been receiving.
Apart from Skopje, a local food bank was opened in Kavadarci, where between 2 and 3 tons of food are donated monthly and local volunteers are taking part in its activities.
“Up to 100-150 families depend on them and with the help of the Mayor Mitko Janchev and the Council of the municipality Kavadarci, we were given an office and a vehicle for distribution of the received food donations to their final beneficiaries,” explains Dushko Hristov.
He also said that they have contacted almost all of the municipalities in North Macedonia and that they have signed cooperation memorandums with 11 municipalities, but to this day, no conditions were created to start working. In the past period, a more solid cooperation was established with the municipalities of Jegunovce, Novaci, Štip and Bitola and regarding the companies, Hristov has named Tinex, Stokomak, VERO, Ramstore, Vincinni and Vitaminka.
Thanks to the cooperation with ENVIRUM, with the help from the partner companies, the bread and the pastries from Tinex are distributed to the final beneficiaries on daily basis.
Hristov says that the Managing board of Food Bank Macedonia has set goals for new food banks to be opened in the next 5 years, to form additional food banks in Macedonia, in order to establis a Macedonian Food Bank Federation. They already have 19 dedicated partner organizations in the cities throughout the country, with which they have established professional cooperation.
The Food Bank Macedonia has its warehouse in Skopje, which was provided by the Trgojug company. They have two transport vehicles for distribution of the food in Skopje and Kavadarci, including an additional space of 65 square meters in Kavadarci.
Hristov explains that the European Union, Civica Mobilitas and Church Baptist Fellowship in Macedonia are also their supporters, but that Food Bank Macedonia is open for cooperation with others that will yet show interest.
What is most important is that they have 47 volunteers that are unselfishly helping with food storing, packaging and distribution, without whom the food bank’s functioning would be unthinkable.
The lists of the socially endangered people aren’t compiled by the food bank, but by the Department of Social Welfare at the Municipality of Centar and the Center for Social Welfare in Kavadarci and on basis of these lists, a transparent food distribution is conducted. When there are food surpluses in Skopje, Kavadarci, Bitola and Shtip, they are distributed to the partner organizations.
The food bank is offering opportunities for young people
The Food bank Macedonia is sending a special message to all young people in North Macedonia to join them and take part in their activities. Apart from the opportunity for volunteering in food preparation and distribution, the young might be motivated to hear that that the above aren’t the only activities of Food Bank Macedonia.
Dushko Hristov reveals that they have initiated a preparation of a special Law on donating the surplus of food, that they are part of a working group for donations and sponsorships, and are planning to initiate amendments to the Law on Social Welfare. They are also part of the social councils on a local level. Young people and law, economy, social welfare, agricultural students, but also other university students, can take part in the food bank’s activities.
“We are open for cooperation with all those who think they have an urge and need an opportunity to prove themselves in their fields,” Hristov says, adding that Food Bank Macedonia provides opportunity for the young volunteers to come up with their own projects.
As a member of the European Food Bank Federation, through Food Bank Macedonia the young volunteers will have an opportunity to gain special experience in the domain of food banking. In Germany, their sister organization has a special academy that is unique in the world and where 3-4 young students annually can attend an internship program and gain knowledge about food banking. The European Food Bank Federation, organizes 4 to 5 training modules throughout Europe annually, and young people from North Macedonia who want to learn something new, can attend.
“The food bank is a living matter and I always say that, God willing!, one day we can shut it down, because that would mean that hunger and poverty are overcome. Hunger is the most difficult type of poverty,” Dushko Hristov reveals.
During the summer, Meta.mk visited the oldest food bank in Portugal.
The food banks in Portugal can feed up to 4% of the total population
Authors: Bojan Blaževski
Sanja K. Naumovska