Kostas Tzioumakas Constantinos Polychronopoulos 2015
I made a new best friend this week. Constantinos Polychronopoulos, Kostas for short, is an inspirational man. And a dynamo and magnet all in one at the same time. He’s a source for hope and change and dignity for literally countless people around him in the city of Athens.
Kostas’ story goes a bit like this, as far as I have been able to gather (he speaks two words of English, but when I went to see him, my friend and photographer and interpreter Dimitri was with me, a good thing):
Kostas lost his job as a marketing specialist in a big firm in Athens early on when the financial crisis broke. Gradually, he had no choice but to move back in with his mother and was forced to share her ever more meagre pension. He must have been close to 45 at the time, he’s 50 now.
Then one day in 2011, as he tells it, he saw two kids fighting over some food they found in a dumpster (yes, that is Athens, even back then). The next day, he decided to go to a farmer’s market and ask the stall keepers for leftover food. Right then and there, he started to cook a meal with what they gave him, and to give it away to anyone who wanted to eat, to share.
His main motto still is: Free Food For All! He will not tolerate discrimination of any kind. And he always eats along with the people he feeds. We share!
Kostas now cooks ‘in the street’, and I mean that literally, every day. In the beginning, he was arrested multiple times on health related charges etc, but he successfully defended his case saying there was no law against cooking food in the street and giving it away.
Today, his statement reads:
The idea of Society Kitchen “The Other Human”
In an action of solidarity and a manifestation of love towards our fellow men, with the hope to awaken consciousness and for there to be other similar actions form other individuals and from groups.
These actions are not philanthropic or charity.
We cook “live”, we eat together and we live together.
A lunch with our fellow men on the street.
Join us to make each day more beautiful.
These days, he feeds over 300 people every day. Athens is the city of homeless people. And they’re not winos or people with mental issues, as we know from North American and European cities, though some of them inevitably are.
In Athens, they’re the people who not long ago had good jobs and good prospects, and often families to raise, and who now find themselves with nothing left. Many many people have moved (back) in with parents or family or friends, but not all have that choice. And even if they do, there is no future anywhere to be seen.
A big thing for Mr. Polychronopoulos (I love that say that name) is that he’s able to provide them with a goal in life, with something useful to do, so maybe one day they can go back into a normal functioning society, instead of only sinking ever deeper into a bottomless hole.
Today, these are the people that Kostas can count on to be his volunteers. He now has 3 crews cooking meals outside, in squares and streets, every day in various places in the city. There are a few spots where he’ll be every Tuesday, or every Thursday, but the rest are all different places all the time. Because the need is everywhere.
The food he cooks is all donated. By individuals, supermarkets, restaurants, wherever he can get it. A huge task all in itself. But he and his people get it done, 24/7. Kostas is not a big fan of soupkitchens, because since Athens never had a need for them, they have no cooking facilities and instead get catered to by professional enterprises who work for profit and in his eyes provide poor quality.
That’s not to say they’re not desperately needed, mind you, he simply feels there’s a better way to do it. To get the perspective, there are easily over 100,000 people in Athens alone who need to be fed every day. Half the population of Greece, some 6 million people, live on or below the edge of poverty.
I don’t know about you, but it feels to me like these people have already been told they don’t belong to Europe, no matter what proposals and negotiations are flying over the table. They are effectively living in the third word. Or perhaps even a fourth world.
Dimitri and I went to see Kostas on Wednesday in a sort of apartment building where his organization -that’s what it’s become by now-, named O Allos Anthropos, The Other Human, rents a space where homeless people can go for a meal, or to take a shower, or even, and I must admit I wouldn’t have thought of that, to let their children enjoy a real playroom:
There are clothes being donated -though I understand any and all donations become harder to come by even if ever more people want to donate, everyone simply has less and less-:
There’s a computer where everyone who walks in can go look for job applications -there are few, though it’s no exception to find people with university degrees here-, and of course there’s a kitchen:
Obviously, there’s the proverbial me and him -and furry cuteness- picture:
And the receipt:
As you may be able to decipher between all that Greek, I donated €500 to Kostas and his organization. I thought it good to be careful with your money (I always will), but now I think I should give him more. I can hardly think of anyone more deserving, or anyone who I’d trust more to make sure it’s used in the best possible way. And he insisted on seeing me again anyway before I go.
Which brings me to the next point. I have a ticket out of here on Thursday. So time is becoming an issue. I could get an extension, but I think I’d rather come back. Also because Nicole is in Europe now, and it would be nice to bring her along. Don’t worry, we cover our own travel costs, not a penny of the money you donated to the AE for Athens Fund goes to anyone or anything but the appropriate organizations in the city. Word. Cross my heart.
But there are other snags. For one, the euro may not be legal tender here much longer. I don’t think that’s a big risk, but it’s there. Also, ATMs may stop working altogether a few days from now (Monday?). And ironically, while apparently huge amounts of bank cards are being issued in the city, the organizations we donate to plead for cash euros. Because everything has become a cash economy. It’s hard to know what to do from one day to the next.
So I will have to see what is going to happen. I’m due to visit another clinic on Monday. I have the meeting with Kostas on Tuesday. Dimitri and I are looking hard for an organization that helps refugees, and that we like. Kostas wants to steer clear of all NGOs and government help, and that seems like a good idea. But it has to be possible. There are 1000s of refugess arriving in Greece every day, and €1000 is nothing in that respect.
As you may see, this occupies a lot of my time by now, But I also have to keep The Automatic Earth running. And see some daylight from time to time. Oh, and boy, this city is hot!
After my article on the clinic Wednesday, more money rolled in. You guys are truly something else. The total donations for the AE Fund for Athens have now gone over $8000 US!!! That’s still well over €7000. So I have some big decisions, and big responsibilities, by now. And I will live up to them as best I can. Look, the clinics will need money, and badly, at any given point in time, and for a long time to come. Kostas can and will only do good with anything we give him.
So it’s not that big a problem, but the idea of course is to spread the good around. I’m looking at organizations that take care of children. Very important too. I have a phone number for a lady who runs a private initiative for street kids. There’s so many of them… Will call her tomorrow.
Please keep donating, the need is immense, and may get even bigger as the negotiations over Greek budget cuts wrangle on. And even if the Troika decided to give the government another $100 billion, which I strongly doubt, next to nothing would go to where it’s needed most, it would all go to pay off debt, and your money would be much more efficient in helping where it counts.
I’ve been here for two weeks now, and I’ve found it takes time to find the proper ‘targets’ -and I refuse to waste any of your donations-. But we’re closing in on those targets, so by all means don’t stop now. I’ll always keep you posted on where every single dollar went. Your generosity has turned this into a mission for me.
By the way, a commenter at AE said this after my last AE Fund post, and I’m sorry if that still wasn‘t clear enough:
For those who crave more specific instructions: In the left column of this site, towards the top of the page, there is a section for making donations. If you would like to donate to the Greek cause use this section…BUT MAKE SURE YOUR DONATION AMOUNT ENDS WITH .99. Donations ending with any other decimal values will go to the AE site itself.
Most people already got that, as I can see from what comes in, but it may be good to repeat it once more.
And to quote myself from a while ago: Let’s leave the political ramifications alone for the moment, I deal with that on an almost daily basis here at the Automatic Earth already. Let’s for a moment focus on the more immediate. Let’s see what we can do here and now.
Please support the AE for Athens fund. You can donate through our Paypal widget at the top of the left sidebar. Make sure if you want to donate to Greece, to end the amount with $.99 (TAE itself needs funding too).
You can also donate bitcoin at this address: 1HYLLUR2JFs24X1zTS4XbNJidGo2XNHiTT.
Thank you from a city under siege.
You wouldn’t know that, by the way, from the number of tourists, but ironic as it may be, they’re probably the only thing that keeps this city, and the country, barely alive. Double irony: I can take as much out of an ATM as I like, though not all at once, (which allows me to make cash donations..), while my Greek friends are limited to €60 a day.
So the tourists empty the ATMs, bringing the moment that much closer that the Greeks themselves can’t get any anymore. There even seems to be an app now where people can check which ATMs still have cash in them, and which don’t.
Let’s try and help them through these crazy times as best we can. And we can.