Dionissis Arvanitakis, a Greek baker who shot to the public spotlight when he provided free bread to refugees upon their arrival to the island of Kos, died on Saturday morning, aged 77.
Arvanitakis was raised in a family of 10. Poverty forced them to emigrate to Australia in 1957 when he was aged 16, but he eventually returned to his island in 1970 and opened a bakery with his savings. His business was successful and extended to five outlets, a pastry shop and a grocery and bread-and-sweet-making factory.
He began giving away 110 kilos of bread per day to refugees on Kos in March 2015.
When asked about the reason behind his gesture, he said: “I know what it feels like to have nothing.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker released a statement expressing his respect for Arvanitakis as “an exemplary European citizen”. He wrote:
“It is with sorrow that I learned of the death of Dionissis Arvanitakis, an exemplary European citizen, who has been rewarded by the European institutions for his rare generosity and sensitivity towards the hundreds of unfortunate immigrants.
My Europe is the one Dionissis Arvanitakis symbolized.
Have a good trip, dear baker of Kos, who every day gave bread to the hungry souls who had known so much suffering.
Sincere condolences to his family.”
Condolences have also poured in from the Greek political world. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said that Arvanitakis showed his “solidarity” to refugees “daily and with action”.
Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos spoke of Arvantakis’ contribution to European society.
Europe’s Economic and Social Committee gave Arvanitakis an award for his services in 2016.