“Thank you…” These are the first words uttered by 62-year-old Solmaz Gyulumyan when asked to share about her experience at our Byureghavan Soup kitchen – which she has been visiting since its opening in 2014. “I’ve realized that we take too many basic necessities for granted, and I have become more thankful for what I and my family have. I am thankful for the soup kitchen; I get a hot meal, and that helps, but a lot of what I am thankful for is the opportunity to socialize and make connections with others.”

On weekday mornings, Solmaz arrives early at the soup kitchen with her two sons – Arsen, 21, and Karen, 29 – along with Karen’s wife Varduhi, 25. They greet other patrons with a smile and a word of encouragement.

While born in Azerbaijan, Solmaz has lived most of her life in Byureghavan in the Kotayk region. Having once been an industrial town, Byureghavan is now one of the poorest urban-type settlements in Armenia. The majority of the people here lack full-time jobs and social welfare. It’s one of the most striking challenges in the town, exacerbated by the high number of homeless and underprivileged families, as well as the elderly.

Solmaz was 16 when her family moved into Byureghavan. Upon arrival, she enrolled in the local technicum – an institute of vocational education common in the Soviet Union. However, she never managed to get a job with her electrical background and instead went on to master making glass products at the well-known glass-cutting factory of Byureghavan.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the glass factory saw a drastic decrease in production, and closed shortly thereafter. Solmaz, like many others, ended up losing her job, creating a new hurdle for her to overcome. “Everything collapsed in Armenia, and we have to live this way now,” she said – pointing out her discontent with her current living situation. Solmaz lives in a two-room dormitory with her two sons who have disabilities and have difficulty finding steady and well-paying jobs. The family’s monthly income is comprised of the sons’ disability benefits of $35 each, and Solmaz’s $40 pension and $35 state benefit.

“Life is very difficult here, and we have to tighten up our belt. My sons earn some income by collecting and selling plastic bottles,” said Solmaz and then smiled: “Without anyone else to turn to, I turned to the soup kitchen, and I am thankful for all the contributors who have channeled their resources for the good of the families like ours. I come here to eat and to take food home for the rest of the day. This is a great support sent by heaven.”

Byureghavan and Nor Hajn Soup Kitchens were opened in the autumn of 2014. They operate with support of Hacet family in memory of two distinguished Armenian women – Yeghsapet Jambazian-Mangoian and Yeghsapet Ambarian-Ouzounian – who had difficult lives, but always shared what they had with those who were less fortunate. Currently, the number of beneficiaries attending these two Soup Kitchens extend 300.