Georgia O’Keeffe Red poppy No. VI 1928
High time for another update about our support for what is now called the “Self-managed Social Kitchen Monastiraki” here in Athens (Athina). It’s again been a while, because for a long time so many things were uncertain and up in the air. I guess that is inevitable when the entire world lives through insecure times, and the homeless as always are more affected by such things than anyone else.
For the first half of the year, I wasn’t even here, I spent the first lockdown period in Holland, because I thought Greece would be more affected than it, but I was very wrong. Greece had it down then. It’s only now, 3-4 months after they opened their borders to tourism again, that things go wrong.
But the country needs revenue from tourism, it cannot keep its borders closed forever. There’s a lesson in there somewhere about what I wrote earlier, that “after 10 months, we can’t keep treating COVID as the only problem in town. That’s myopic. We need a bigger picture”.
Athens went into another full lockdown recently, and the city is devoid of life. Which will kill off another large part of the “mom-and-pop” businesses that make it function and kept it vibrant. There’s exactly two Starbucks in Athens, to name an example, one McDonald’s and one KFC, and I think they should be very proud of that. Monoculture kills life itself, both in farming and in city streets.
And countless people working in the “mom-and-pop” businesses, and in the tourist- and hospitality industries, no longer have jobs. They get some financial support, but not enough to pay all their bills. So what do they do? They go see each other indoors, where the infection risk is higher.
Still, here we are. And we have to deal with it. Back in March, the Monastiraki kitchen did that too. A lockdown doesn’t make the homeless any less hungry or needy, it makes them more so. And the boys and girls responded to that under ever more difficult circumstances. When cooking in the street was no longer viable, they devised a way to cook in a private space nearby and ride out the food to Monastiraki Square, on a cart.
Problem with that is it costs a lot more time and money, because every meal has to be individually packaged, and you now in COVID time need sanitizer and gloves and tons of bags, and facemasks. I bought a whole bunch of N95 masks for everyone a few weeks ago, because there are real risks when working close together, and then handing out the meals to the clients. I want to keep these people as safe as possible.
Then this summer, there was another issue. The kitchen had returned to cooking on the square, but in early August was told by municipal police that there were anonymous complaints about them “taking up public space”, and they couldn’t come back. All attempts since to find out what exactly was going on have landed nowhere. At one point some official promised he would come with a solution, only to never be heard from again.
And so, certainly with the new lockdown in place, the decision was made to keep cooking in the private place, and rolling out the food to the square. People are good at adapting. But there remains an underlying threat of the kitchen volunteers being arrested, a threat that was actually made in early August. For feeding people in need. Some world.
And this is a good moment to introduce Filothei, the lady and girl who is the driving force behind the kitchen now. Which she will deny, because it’s all about everyone else, not her, and because she insists she’s only 17. I began to wonder about the kitchen’s finances when I got back to Athens in June 2020, I thought they’d badly need more of the Automatic Earth funds, but they were in no hurry.
Meet Filothei 😉
Digging further, I realized we only provided some 10-15% of the funding. So where did the rest come from? It took some questioning, but sure enough, a large part of the answer is: from Filothei herself. And while that is supersweet, it also makes for a vulnerable situation. And then, of course, she got hurt a month ago when a piece of a mirror fell into (yes, into) her arm and she hasn’t been able to work her job as a physiotherapist for handicapped people since.
By the way, Filothei also has a large organic garden, which provides most of the vegetables for most of the year. For 200 meals every week! Automatic Earth readers’ donations are typically used to buy the staples, pasta, olive oil, canned tomatoes etc.
We decided to run a trial on November 16, when Filothei went to the supermarket with some of the €1,000 in coupons she still had left from what I bought in early July(!), without using anything still in stock, to see the cost for one run of 200 meals, and it showed a total of €242 (in current exchange rates, close to $300 US). While “my” coupons have paid for some €20 per week. We were both surprised at the numbers.
And no, €242 for 200 meals is not much, it’s less than €1.15 per person. While the NGO’s and charities funded by governments and the EU claim costs of €5-€10 per meal. But you still have to have the €242 every week. And it shouldn’t come from one sweetheart of a girl, or from me, or any other individual person. That’s not how you run a social kitchen operation long term.
Moreover, because of the COVID situation, other people who used to provide some funds, no longer can, because out of 30 of them “affiliated” with the kitchen, only 3 now still have jobs. When it rains, it pours.
So on November 16 we did the shopping trial, and the next day I went along for the whole cooking process, about 4 hours. November 17 is the day Greece commemorates its then military junta violently putting down a student protest at the Polytechnic university compound in 1973, and the government tightened its lockdown measures even more, fearing protests, which meant many who usually help in the kitchen were afraid to come in, fearing a €300 fine.
As did I, but hey, hard as it is to understand the details of the lockdown measures when you don’t speak the language, if others take the risk, who am I not to? There was police in full riot gear everywhere, and at the end of the day, around 7.30 pm, we had meals left. That never happens. Some of the guys later went into side streets, where the homeless were hiding from the police, and handed out dozens more meals.
But of course things ain’t all bad. Filothei told me yesterday about a group of people, organized in the “Love Van”, which is an organization made up of Greek athletes, that reached out to her to ask what she needs, and now promised to bring 160 winter coats and 160 sleeping bags next week to the kitchen. That’s such a grand gesture. Coat: $100 a piece, sleeping bag $100 a piece?!
Not everything is bad. And no matter how bad it gets, we will somehow make it through this. Hey, the shortest day of the year is only one month away, and after that things can only get better. But you already know what I’m going to say next: please help me, help us, help the people that need your help most.
Put the Automatic Earth, and the Monastiraki kitchen, in your Christmas donations list in 2020, and contribute to a real effort to help real people beset by real problems. These are mostly not people with drug- or alcohol problems, they are people who lost their jobs or businesses and their homes, through no fault of their own. That was true when I first got here in Spring 2015, and it’s even more so now, because COVID has killed off so many ways to carve out at least a minimum existence.
Most of you will know the drill of this by now: any donations ending in $0.99 or $0.37 go straight to the Monastiraki kitchen, while other donations go to the Automatic Earth -which also badly needs them, especially for Christmas-.
I dislike few things more than asking people for money, even though the Automatic Earth now runs primarily on donations, and there’s some sweet justice in that as well, in depending on people’s appreciation of what we do, instead of ad revenues.
But I cannot do this on my own right now. To get through the winter in one piece, the Monastiraki kitchen will realistically need about €1,000 per month. I don’t have that to spare. So I’m calling on you. In earlier times, 2016-2017, we had way more than that with Konstantinos, but both Filothei and I decided a few years back, independently from each other, that we didn’t want to work with him anymore.
So let’s see where we can get today, shall we? I want to write the perfect article with the perfect plea, but there is of course no such thing. Therefore, I will be back in a few weeks time with a reminder -and updates-, hoping that y’all have gotten the message.
I love all you people so much, and I’m sorry I can’t thank you all individually who have supported -and still do- the Monastiraki kitchen and the Automatic Earth all this time, and I ask you to keep on doing just that. The details for donations on Paypal and Patreon, for both causes, are in the top of the two sidebars of this site. Could not be much easier.
Love you. Thank you.
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Click at the top of the sidebars for Paypal and Patreon donations. Thank you for your support.
Turns out, the same Filothei is quite the photographer too:
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