‘Not for the bread alone’ at parish welfare centers

Seven years ago, the parish welfare center of Aghios Nikolaos in Kallithea served 35 meals a day. Now, it hands out at least 130. Voula and Mary, the cooks, begin work at dawn in order to have the food ready by lunchtime. When Kathimerini visited the center it was a Wednesday, a day of fasting, so the menu was broad beans, a vegetable ragout and green beans with potatoes. About 30 kilos of fresh bread had just arrived from the bakery. Olives and peaches completed the menu. A young man opened the door and dropped off two bags of aubergines, a contribution from the local street market. «Thank you!» call out the cooks. «The market and the local people help us a lot,» they tell us. The Aghios Nikolaos center is one of the few of its kind still open at this time of year. «We never close,» said Father Pavlos Baraboutis, head of the parish welfare center. «The poor never go on holiday.» And because many of the other centers are closed now, more and more people are coming to Kallithea. «In the past, only old people came,» remembers Father Pavlos. «Now, we have people of all ages, mostly Greeks: Large families, single mothers, homeless, beggars, drug addicts and people who can’t make ends meet on the basic wage,» he said. Some of the visitors are also given a small sum of cash as well as food, and every Saturday a physician and neurologist is there to examine anyone in need of medical attention. At noon, everything is ready and one by one the first «customers» arrive. The older people know each other, take their plates and sit in the dining room. Many of the older women help the cooks prepare the next day’s meal. The younger ones take their food away with them in plastic containers to feed the rest of the family. Maria, on the other hand, is in no hurry, but chats to the cooks while her 3-year-old son plays around the room, making the older people laugh. Maria is separated and has no relatives or friends in Athens. She only found work a few months ago as a cleaner. »I’ve had some difficult years. Here they have helped me a lot,» she explained. M. Sakellaridis is a 76-year-old former coal miner from Halkida. «I’ve been coming here for eight months. I worked all those years and didn’t get a pension. I’ve appealed to the courts. My lungs are full of coal dust, so I am asking for a lot,» he said bitterly. Also without any income is Ioannis Gikakis, 64, who has been coming for three to four years. He used to be a construction worker. Evgenia Kyriakidou is the «oldest» customer. For 15 years she has been eating at the center. «The food is excellent and the people are sincere,» she says. Although the regulations require a means test for those seeking assistance, the doors are open to all parishioners in need. The same applies to the 66 other parish welfare centers run by the Athens Archdiocese, and which provide 2,350 meals a day. The Archdiocese’s own three canteens provide another 530 meals.

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