A Place at the Table

Victoria Skrivanos
Victoria Skrivanos
Sophomore Victoria Skrivanos has an appetite for food and philanthropy. With the help of her family, she’s combined her passions and hit on a recipe for feeding the homeless, both in her Massachusetts hometown and in D.C.
May 10, 2017

As a middle schooler, Victoria Skrivanos, now a Columbian College sophomore majoring in communication and journalism, hit on what seemed like a novel way to serve the hungry and homeless in her Andover, Mass., community: Begin a charity that centered around her Greek heritage of cooking and hosting big family dinners.

Cooking had been her family’s passion since her grandfather immigrated to America from a small town in Greece and opened a diner outside Boston. Skrivanos’ most cherished childhood memories are the times she spent in her Papous’ kitchen, baking bread and spinach pie. “Cooking brought my family together,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine a life without family dinners and all the laughs and memories they brought with it.”

In planning her new charity, Skrivanos enlisted the help of their local Greek Orthodox church to host the meals that she and her grandfather would cook. Skrivanos handled fundraising, contacting restaurants to donate food and asking everyone from her classmates to her tennis coach to contribute time and money. She even had a catchy name for her enterprise: Food For Friends.

But when the church doors finally opened, only five people arrived for the meal. After all her efforts, Skrivanos was disheartened. “I guess I thought I would solve homelessness in one afternoon,” she recalled.

Eight years—as well as thousands of fundraising dollars, hundreds of pounds of food and dozens of hours in the kitchen—both Skrivanos’ nonprofit and her passion for cooking and community service have grown. Today, Food For Friends feeds about 150 people each month. While she is no longer as intimately involved in its day-to-day operations, Skrivanos still takes an active role in fundraising and marketing.

And she’s also brought her philanthropy to Foggy Bottom. Skrivanos volunteered at Martha’s Table, the D.C. education and nutrition charity that serves more than a million meals a year in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Her food-themed Instagram page—@district_foodies—introduces her 40,000 followers to Washington cuisine while promoting restaurants’ philanthropic activities for food banks and shelters. And she is one of the founders of GW’s chapter of Spoon University, a national publication about food on college campuses.

Skrivanos traces her commitment back to that first poorly attended meal. As she glumly cleaned dishes and packaged cartons of leftover spaghetti and meatballs, one of the five people who attended approached her. “If it wasn’t for you,” he said, “I would not have eaten today.”

“I cannot even to begin to explain how this man’s words affected me,” she said. “I realized that, by just doing my part, five fewer people went to bed hungry that night. I learned that every little contribution matters.”

Skrivanos has raised more than $25,000 in donations for Food For Friends, almost entirely through word of mouth and email appeals. She still visits the kitchen during GW breaks and over the summer. The standard menu—meatloaf, chicken, pasta, vegetables and rice—is cooked and served by Skrivanos’ family and volunteers. They begin their preparations at about 6 a.m. on Saturday mornings and offers meals throughout the day.

When she finds time to hang up her apron, Skrivanos strolls the dining room, talking to people as they enjoy her meals. She has fed doctors, athletes and professors who are down on their luck. She’s forged an ongoing friendship with a girl her own age who regularly attends Food For Friends meals, lending her books and helping her make a dress for a school dance.

Planning to pursue a career in journalism, Skrivanos credits the project with helping her build empathy for people in troubled circumstances. “When I was younger, I thought everyone who was homeless slept on park benches at night and begged for spare change in the day,” she said. “Food For Friends has taught me to break down my own stereotypes and open my eyes to what homelessness really is.”

Skrivanos hopes that, in addition to bringing healthy home-cooked meals to her community, she’s also giving people who come to eat a forum to connect with each other. “When they sit down, they not only get a hearty meal, they also have the chance to make conversation with friends, laugh with their kids and relax,” she said.  As one mother told her over a dinner, “When I am here with my family, we are eating good food and we are having a good time. This doesn’t happen very often.”