Sixty-two-year-old Siranush Mardanyan starts her day with a hot cup of coffee on the balcony of her home. Her eyes roam over the dilapidated areas of the house and unfinished reconstruction, which serve as a constant reminder of the death of her husband three years ago, and the worsening condition of her son Arayik, 38, who lives with a disability.
Siranush and Arayik were accepted into FAR’s Soup Kitchen program in 2014, which provides them with a balanced, nutritious meal once a day for five days per week. The Berd Soup Kitchen (sponsored by the Mardigian Family Foundation) is not far from their house, and provides crucial food support for around 120 people from low-income families, including seniors living alone and people with disabilities.
“We make coffee on this stove using cardboard for the fire. Unfortunately, there is no gas and neither money to install the pipes, so we have to pick up firewood from here and there to heat the house in winter. The soup kitchen has become our means of living. We usually have our food in the afternoon and wait for the next day, around 1:00pm to go to the soup kitchen. We have to fend for ourselves over the weekends. Luckily it’s summer right now and we can collect some greens to cook. We have a small farm and no accommodations to water plants, so I can’t grow many crops, mostly just some bean plants,” said Siranush Mardanyan who used to earn a living by working in a bus station café as a cleaner for many years. She became unemployed 10 years ago due to salary cuts.
Since childhood, Arayik has suffered from an intestinal disease, then started to experience developmental disabilities. Siranush could not afford his treatment herself and has been unable to receive state benefits to cover themedications he needs. Nevertheless, Siranush says that he is physically very strong and often helps her with chopping firewood and working the soil in Spring.
In 2017, Siranush lost her husband Hrachik to a heart attack. “He was the only feeding hand of our family. Hrachik always wanted to have a house, so we sold our apartment and moved into this house. But he wasn’t able torenovate it and now it’s falling apart. I have to use buckets on the sides of our house to collect rain water,” she said.
Due to the pandemic, Siranush currently takes their food home from the soup kitchen, and proudly states that she is fond of soups. “I don't have teeth, so I love soups, but Arayik likes everything,” she said noting that her main focus now is to help Arayik receive state benefits so that they can have a reliable monthly income.
FAR’s soup kitchens are a literal life-line for hundreds of the most vulnerable Armenians. Even through the COVID pandemic, FAR has remained resolute in ensuring each soup kitchen can still provide regular nutritious meals to their beneficiaries.