For the last 8 year, about 200 residents of Strunino, a small town in Russia’s Vladimir Oblast region have not had to worry about buying bread, thanks to the generosity of a local grocery store owner who has been giving it away for free.
Mamoud Shavershyan came to Russia, from Armenia, 25 years ago. He worked as an engineer, before setting up his own business, a small grocery store no different than other such stores in Strunino. But everything changed one day, 8 years ago when, sitting behind the counter, Mamoud saw an old lady counting dozens of coins to pay for a couple of loaves of bread. He found it humiliating for the pensioner and ended up giving her the bread for free. That day, he made the decision to print coupons that pensioners in Strunino could exchange for white or black bread at his store. To make sure that people knew about his offer he advertised it a local paper.
But that was only the beginning. Soon, Mamoud extended his generous offer to people with disabilities, large families with low income, and the generally poor. News spread like wildfire, and soon poor people from neighboring villages started coming by his shop to receive coupons. Today, the “Eric” grocery store in Strunino gives away around 2,000 loaves of white bread and 1,000 loaves of black bread, every month. They also regularly donate gingerbread to local kindergartens, and to coupon holders during holidays. And for their kindness, Mamoud and his family are “rewarded” with insults, racial slurs and accusations of theft…
You would think that for their kindness, the Shavershyans would be showered with gratitude and praise, but this isn’t your average feel-good story. In reality, the very people who benefit from their generous offer often insult them and accuse them of stealing that which Putin and the local authorities so generously offer them for free. You see, Mamoud never made a point of telling people that he was the one bearing the costs of the free bread out of his own pockets, and people assumed that he was just passing along the free food offered by the government, while keeping some of it for himself.
“Who gives us this free bread? Putin, who else!” a stern man holding a paper coupon told Kommersant.ru. “The President gave clear orders that the poor people of Russia be assisted, and so they are. But these crafty merchants keep some of it for themselves. They came to Russia in large numbers and feed at our expense.” He was saying this while receiving his free bread in Mamoud’s store. And sadly, most people share his views.
God forbid that Eric grocery store run out of free bread for the day, or that the bread truck break down and fail to make its daily delivery. Mamoud, his wife Rosa and his daughters are held personally responsible and receive verbal abuse and threats from the people they are trying to help. They use racial slurs, threaten to report them to the local authorities, and even throw their coupons in the Shavershyans faces. Last month, an angry old woman threatened to break the store windows with her crutch, because there was no more free bread left.
Rosa Shavershyan says that only around 10% of coupon beneficiaries ever express their gratitude, while the rest act like they are entitled to the free bread. At one point, exasperated with the attitude of the poor people her husband was trying to help, she told him “Mamoud, why are you wasting your money and your nerves, when you receive only cursing in exchange for this bread?” But then, one day, she saw an old man come into the sore to pick up free bread and attempt to kiss her husband’s hand. Mamoud pulled his hand out and told the man “Father, what are you doing!” The gesture impressed her so much that she told her husband “Mamoud, please, for my sake, if you can, printer another 50 monthly coupons for these people.”
Mamoud Shavershyan says that he’s not interested in gratitude. “Only God can appreciate kindness, not people,” he told Kommersant. He often tells his wife and two daughters, “girls, no one has ever helped this people, so they don’t believe in kindness, they are just angry.”
Some say that Mamoud’s philanthropic work is a way to honor his grandfather, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War, mean-spirited people claim that it’s his way of atoning for some mysterious evil deeds, but the kindhearted Armenian says that he just wants those less fortunate than him to have a decent life.
“Local authorities don’t even know about my initiative,” Mamoud says. “They have never acknowledged my work, never offered thanks, but I didn’t do it for that. I just want the people around me to have an untroubled life.”
I guess it’s true what they say, no good deed ever goes unpunished…