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More Greeks Use Soup Kitchens as Economy Worsens

  • Dominic Laurie

ATHENS - As Greece approaches five years of recession, the number of its citizens unable to provide food for themselves is increasing. Soup kitchens in Athens used to be the preserve of undocumented immigrants and the homeless, but now more people from the general population use them too.

It's just before lunchtime. Bowls of hot pasta are being made up for more than a hundred children. But this is not a school. It's a facility run by the municipality of Athens to feed those who can no longer afford to feed themselves. More and more Athenians are coming here - especially pensioners, and families with children.

It's run by George Apostolopolos and a team of volunteers. And though money from the city government has been sufficient so far, he's not sure how long that will continue.

"We are afraid about the future because we don't know about the next day - that is the biggest problem we have, it is a little unknown the future, we try to do the best," Apostolopolos said.

Earlier, before the television cameras showed up, the courtyard was full of adults of all ages lining up for food. But filming the event was not allowed. Many people don't want their families to know they are here.

But, two soup kitchen users agreed to speak about their situations.

Christos says he had a good life until a few years ago. He lost both his parents, then had a serious car crash. He took drugs to ease the pain from the injuries, and lost his job.

"I am 48 years old. I remember 44 years of my life, maybe 43," he said. "This is the most difficult situation that I have ever seen here in Greece"

His friend Maria says she used to run a clothes shop, but then she lost her job when the crisis hit.

"So after that, I lost my home because every month i had to pay month 450 euro," she said. "So 20 days now I am homeless and I am eating here every morning 12 o'clock and 5 o'clock in the afternoon."

The offerings from facilities like these don't seem to be enough though. Hundreds of Greeks lined up in a Central Athens park for free vegetables this week. Farmers from Crete handed out 27 tons of egpplant, peppers, tomatoes and other produce, with the help of the local government.

"We won't solve any feeding problems, but we're starting solidarity, a display of Greek solidarity, that shows that during these times we Greeks are united," said Nikos Saprovalakis, a food company executive who was helping out.

Spiros Kalamantis was one of those lining up for a food rescue package.

"Because I have been unemployed for some years, I thought I'd get one [box] too," he said. "Because I'm unemployed. Nothing more."

More and more Greeks need a helping hand. As unemployment rises, alongside taxes, even feeding oneself is proving hard for many. Yet another challenge for the new Greek government in its first few days in office.