Lyusya Shmavonyan used to buy her food regularly on credit at a local store near her home. She would then pay off her purchases once she received her pension. Then, three years ago, she was directed to FAR’s Nor Nork Soup Kitchen by a city employee.
“I love the cutlets, the macaroni and cheese, and the borsch. But I don’t just go to the soup kitchen for the food; it’s also the socializing that I enjoy, the talking to people,” Lyusya said.
A pension and monthly poverty allowance are this 69-year-old’s main source of income, but it’s not enough for her to live on and that makes it especially tough for Lyusya to be able to afford nutritious food. “If not for the soup kitchen, I would have to buy food on loan again,” she said. Now she is able to afford her groceries outright because she can buy less.
Like many others of her generation, Lyusya had a decent income when she was working as an English teacher during Soviet times. When the system collapsed, she couldn’t find a new job, lost all of her savings, and ended up with nothing. She is now forced to live off her pension that totals less than $100 a month.
Despite her hardships, however, she said she has found peace. She described herself as “full of energy and enthusiasm.” She lives in a one-room house gifted to her by her late father, but said she never feels lonely. It sits on a small plot of land where Lyusya grows nectarine and apricot trees. She spends much of her time reading in the company of her two cats, Mashka and Pashka, and her dogs, Bill and Charlie.
“I am a great specialist of the English language. I was turned onto my profession because of my aunt who taught me my favorite English tongue twister, ‘Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,’” she said. “I often recite this for my friends at the soup kitchen.”
Lyusya also speaks Russian, and a bit of French, Polish, Ukrainian and Latin. “Learning languages is one of my favorite activities. I always stop to talk to tourists when I can as communicating is the most important thing for keeping and advancing one’s language skills.”