Miles from Athens, Greeks overseas buy groceries for family back home

Miles from Athens, Greeks overseas buy groceries for family back home
Spiro Caras stands out in front of his family-run shop located on Lonsdale Street in central Melbourne, Australia on July 1.
PHOTO: Reuters

SYDNEY - Half a world away from the crisis unfolding in Greece, Nelly Skoufatoglou is shopping online for toilet paper, detergents, rice and olive oil to be delivered to her mother's home near Athens.

Skoufatoglou is one of tens of thousands of Greek Australians who have fled to Australia to escape the economic woes of her birthplace, making Melbourne her new home just under a year ago.

She's now finding inventive ways to support the family she left behind and to dodge the restrictions on money transfers and cash withdrawals by locals in Greece.

One way is buying groceries online via the Carrefour Greece website from her desk in Melbourne for delivery to her mother. "I called my mum and asked her what she needed,". Skoufatoglou told Reuters by phone from Melbourne. "I bought olive oil, rice, cheese, groceries, detergent, toilet paper, just basic goods."

Skoufatoglou, a journalist with Greek language publication NeosCosmos in Melbourne, had been sending money to her Australian-born mother via the banks until they restricted withdrawals. She then turned to Western Union, which this week blocked transfers to Greece. "Shopping online means that she (her mother) doesn't have to queue up at ATMs running out of money to get basic supplies,"she said.

Carrefour in Greece, which is owned by the Marinopoulos Group after the French supermarket chain sold its stake in its Greek operations in 2012, said it did not collect data on overseas sales but said general demand for its goods had increased over the past three days.

In Baltimore in the United States, Nely Kostopoulou is also shopping online for family in Greece. Kostopoulou said her mother's pension had been cut by almost 30 percent to 700 euros per month, while her sister is long-term unemployed. "A lot of relatives have to split their skinny pension with their kids and their families because none has enough to go through the month," she told Reuters via email.

"Buying the groceries every month is another way to help." The Carrefour Greece website, which is operated by an external company, Caremarket, accepts credit cards from several other nationalities as payment, although it has barred bank transfers.

Caremarket did not immediately return calls for comment.

Marinopoulos spokesman said that while demand has risen, it was not experiencing any problems with its supplies. "So far when it comes to suppliers we are not having any issue," the Marinopoulos spokesman told Reuters. "What we cannot predict in the future is what happens if the consumers'behaviour changes."

Bill Papastergiadis, president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne, said avoiding money transfers and using private business channels to support relatives makes sense. "The private sector system works very effectively in Greece and there are delivery networks around the country," he said.

Skoufatoglou's only concern is that this most recent avenue of support will also slam shut. "Then what we do, I don't know," she said.

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