John Singer Sargent Corfu-Lights and Shadows 1908
A major story in Athens these days concerns a “children’s charity” NGO named “Kivotos tou Kosmou” (World’s Ark), founded by a priest, Antonios -the Greeks still love their priests- which since 1998 has run multiple homes for “vulnerable children and mothers”. Recently, it has come under scrutiny because of widespread financial malfeasance and, wouldn’t you know, “widespread sexual and physical abuse” of the children in their care. The Monastiraki kitchen’s Filothei tells me that she and her late husband used to donate money to this NGO on a regular basis. Imagine how she feels now, along with so many others.
I tell you this because it apparently revives a discussion about NGOs here in Greece. You may remember that in 2015, when I first landed here, at the height of the refugee crisis, there were 51 NGOs reportedly “operating” on the island of Lesbos alone. Their capital came from the Greek government, as well as the EU, and likely the UN. Many of them were handing out lousy and expensive meals, bought by the thousands from companies somewhere in Europe, and paid for with subsidies (they paid $5-10 per meal, the Monastiraki kitchen cost is $1 per meal -maybe $1,50 now- for much better quality- we make sure). And it was a lucrative business. It was “the Charity Industry”. British (ex?) politician David Miliband then earned £425,000-a-year as head of refugee charity International Rescue. For all I know he still does.
They picked Miliband because of his ties to -political- funding. Where that funding then went, if it actually helped people, was a secondary matter. To be an NGO, you must comply with, in the Greek case, a long set of EU rules. And then when you do, you can get a lot of money -or at least in 2015 you could. That money didn’t go where it was needed, it went to the NGO industry. And the politicians could say: see, we spent so much money on the poor, you can’t blame us if anything goes wrong!
Somehow this whole thing has reached the Monastiraki kitchen to the extent that Filothei would like me to explain. As she herself wrote on the kitchen’s Facebook page the other day (Google translation) :
The Monastiraki social kitchen, we are a group, “big family” of intrepid people with a common goal and abundance of emotions. Setting tables for sharing moments and feeding. WE DON’T ACCEPT CASH. We are not an NGO. We have no sponsors. We are only accepting items that can fit in the pot of all of us or fruit and candy all shared on the same day. We don’t store, we don’t stock food, we do not throw food. Even ripe fruit becomes jams for crepes. Whatever are SOS needs that we cannot meet, we ask for your help, always in kind.
With organized and proper management of food, we always have it in abundance and no needy person leaves complaining. Thank you for your prompt response, caring, support and Humanity. This pot is filled by all of us and is distributed fairly to all. With a smile and appetite for lessons in the difficult city, we are waiting for you in our big family. We keep what unites us and throw away what divides us. Solidarity, respect, and Love are our weapons.
This comes after she tells me people ask how much we ourselves make from each cooking, and people saying: I would like to work for your kitchen, how much do you pay? In reality, the people who prepare the food are also the people who use their own money -of which most have little- to buy what is needed to feed 500 homeless per cooking. And in the background as a safety net, for large expenses and unexpected costs, there is the Automatic Earth and its wonderful readers.
People’s perception, and you can’t blame them for it, is that we make money off of feeding the poorest. As I said, charity has become an industry. NGOs are money makers. And that’s how people see them. That’s why we never wanted to be an NGO. Sure, that means donations to us are not tax-deductible, and that undoubtedly costs us a lot of money, but the cost to our integrity of complying with bureaucrats is just too high. We pave our own path.
As for the kitchen’s operations right now, we’ve made sure there’s still a bit of money left from your donations in summer, just in case. From time to time I even tell Filothei et al that they can keep their money and put it in a jar or an envelope for hard(er) times. Because we still have some funds, we made sure. They refuse to accept any cash, by the way, I have to personally go to the supermarket to purchase the checks that they then use to buy the staple foods, pasta, rice, tomato cans and -paste. Can’t give them cash, can’t transfer the money.
But winter hasn’t started yet, and that will be the big challenge. Supermarket prices just keep on rising, but the big one will be the power and energy bills. Which for some people will be 3x what they were last year. We face 3 months of trouble. How many people will be unable to pay their bills? How many will have to cut down on food just to be able to stay in their homes? How may will end up in the streets? How cold will it get? We don’t know. But we do have to try and prepare. For more meals, more cooking, more caring.
And never underestimate the shame, the hesitancy that people feel when they must admit they can not feed themselves, or worse, their families. People all over the world are too proud for that, and Greeks are certainly no exception.
Thank you so much for your ongoing support. And we’ll make sure our clients have a great Christmas dinner. I’d pay for it myself if needed, but something tells me the Monastiraki kitchen family will beat me to it.
My usual schtick repeated:
Also, I should never forget the local people who support the kitchen. There is a baker who sends over enough bread for everyone. Another baker sends over tons of fantastic sweets, luxurious pies etc., every week (€100 each time?). They wish to remain anonymous. And there are many like them. The store where we get the water sends over food for vegetarians, to name one example. Plus, of course, most vegetables come from Filothei’s organic garden (how big does a garden have to be before you call it a farm?!). It’s a brilliant operation, and I’m proud to be part of it.
We are a lucky kitchen. Because of all these people, and because of you. Thank you. I’ll end with the usual play:
Most of you will know the drill of this by now: any Paypal 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. (Note: a lot of Automatic Earth donations also end up at the kitchen).
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. The Monastiraki kitchen will realistically need about €1,500 per month (not all from my readers). I don’t have that to spare. So I’m calling on you. Unashamedly, because I know there is no reason to be ashamed of the cause.
I love all you people, 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. If you’d rather send a check, go to our Store and Donations page. Bitcoin: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.
Love you. Thank you. This kitchen would not exist without you, these people would not get fed.
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