Yiayia next door

The kindness of a neighbour helped two brothers create a special community, along with a unique tribute to their late mother.

Daniel and Luke Mancuso

Daniel Mancuso: “We really want to shine a light on Mum and Yiayia’s generosity and kindness, one kind act a day can make the world a better place."

When Daniel and Luke Mancuso see a text message or missed call from their neighbour, their tastebuds start to tingle. Ever since they moved back into their childhood home next door to her, the generous Greek grandmother has been regularly sharing home-cooked meals with them over the fence. It might be flaky spanakopita one day, or hot bean soup the next. “The first time it happened, I was playing with our dog in the backyard,” says Daniel. “Yiayia called out, ‘I’ve got something for you’. She handed me a chicken rice dish with the steam still coming off it.”

Daniel, 32, and Luke, 29, live in their mother Teresa’s childhood home in Melbourne. For the brothers, Yiayia’s care and generosity was the salve they needed to begin healing after Teresa’s tragic death from domestic violence* in 2013. Cooking for the boys is also how Yiayia deals with her own sorrow over the loss of a woman she watched growing up. “I think of Teresa often and cooking for her sons is really for her, too,” she explains.

Even though they’re not related, the brothers call their neighbour and her husband Yiayia and Pappou (the Greek terms for grandma and grandpa). “I love them like my own, so I have three grandchildren – my grandson, plus Daniel and Luke,” says Yiayia.

Sharing their story

In 2018, the brothers began to post videos on Instagram about these over-the-fence food deliveries. Luke says this story of a simple act of kindness resonated with the broader community. While Yiayia prefers to remain anonymous – she says she’s just cooking for her boys – and doesn’t show her face in their photos, ‘Yiayia Next Door’ became a social media sensation.

“Food brings people together,” Luke says. “We’ve always known that, thanks to our Italian heritage and having big family dinners. Now it’s about the power of giving and sharing what you have with other people in need. We want to encourage everyone to be more like Yiayia and make an effort to break the ice with your neighbours.”

Yiayia Next Door has now evolved into a social enterprise, which the brothers use to raise awareness of domestic violence and spread the ‘love thy neighbour’ ethos. Their long list of achievements include ambassador roles with Carlton Football Club and Respect Victoria, as well as raising money for organisations that support people experiencing family violence, such as Our Watch and Safe Steps, plus the Australian Childhood Foundation, for which the boys are also ambassadors.

But their latest project is particularly close to their hearts. Daniel and Luke have recently released a cookbook, Yiayia Next Door, so everyone can try Yiayia’s delicious Greek dishes, along with cherished recipes from their mother and others shared by their social media community. A percentage of the proceeds will be donated to charity.

If you would like to experience food from Daniel and Luke's cookbook, YiaYia Next Door, try their fasolada

A lasting tribute

For Daniel and Luke, Yiayia Next Door is their way of paying tribute to two important women in their lives – their mother and the neighbour who showed them kindness when they needed it most. “Mum was a great cook,” says Luke. “She loved food and, like Yiayia, enjoyed cooking for people she loved.”

“We really want to shine a light on Mum and Yiayia’s generosity and kindness,” says Daniel. “One kind act a day can make the world a better place. Doing something for someone else makes you feel better, too.”

 

*If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, contact: National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732; Referrals for emergency accommodation services at missionaustralia.com.au/contact-us. Don’t go it alone. Reach out for help by contacting Lifeline on 13 11 14.