A young man walks into the traditional café Patrides in the downtown Athens district of Koukaki. “Hello. Two coffees please. One for me and one suspended coffee,” he says when paying at the till. Two young women come in after him. “Two coffees for us and two suspended toasted sandwiches,” they say as they pay for their order. The cashier notes the goods “on hold” on a blackboard. A few minutes later, a middle-aged man dressed in worn clothes walks up to the counter: “Good morning. Would you happen to have a coffee on hold?” he asks, somewhat bashfully.
This scene plays out in a clever short film put together by third-year students at the Delos School of Dramatic Arts which has gone viral on the Internet since it was posted in November. The role of the middle-aged man is played by their professor, Nikos Touliatos, an acclaimed percussionist. The idea for the video belongs to Dimitris Panelis, who pitched to his fellow students as a way to spread the “Coffee on Hold” or “Suspended Coffees” campaign. A labor of love, the film has not only become a favorite on social media but is also being broadcast on television, spreading the word around Greece.
“Suspended Coffees” is one of dozens of grassroots initiatives to have emerged in response to the crisis. It is related to the “A Coffee’s Waiting for You” campaign launched earlier by the people at Schedia street magazine – which is sold by and in aid of the country’s homeless – and inspired by a tradition that dates some 100 years back to the working-class cafes of Naples, whereby a cafe patron would pay for a coffee that would be offered free of charge to someone without the means to buy their own. The “Suspended Coffees” tradition died off in the wake of World War II, only to re-emerge later in Bulgaria, Russia and Australia, and more recently in many more parts of the world, where it is rapidly catching on, with hundreds of businesses in 112 cities and towns in 17 countries registered for the scheme.
Panelis and his fellow students wanted to broaden the campaign’s horizon in Greece, “aimed certainly at poor and homeless people, but also to a wider circle of people, such as the unemployed and students who are facing financial difficulties, to senior citizens on poverty-level pensions.”
The scheme is not restricted to coffee either. On the list of the 200 businesses that have already responded to this call for solidarity – all the way from Komotini and Ptolemaida to Syros and Gavdos – you will also see fast-food establishments, bakeries, patisseries, butcher’s shops and even hair salons.
“Of course we have haircuts on hold too. There are people who simply can’t afford such an expense,” says Panelis. “Our objective is to broaden the range of goods and services offered to people without means even further. We are already talking to pharmacists so that they can provide medication to people who wouldn’t be able to buy it without our help.”
Vassilis Panopoulos owns the cafe-restaurant Roomie_b on Pericleous Street in central Athens. He signed up for the scheme from day one. “I wish more people knew about it and more businesses joined the effort because, unfortunately, I don’t see much hope. The wave of poverty just keeps growing,” he tells Kathimerini.
Describe to us your experience seeing people come in and ask for a coffee on hold.
“At first it is obvious that they are ashamed of being in the position to have to do such a thing. Most of them were taxpaying citizens, like us, who ended up on the street because of the crisis. Over time, though, when they realize that we treat them exactly as we do any other customer, they relax and open up. Now we are friends with almost every homeless or poor person in the neighborhood and even when there is no coffee ‘on hold,’ we’ll still give them one,” explains Panopoulos.
“A few days ago, one of the homeless men who have coffee almost every day at Roomie_b brought me a sesame bread ring. It had been given to him by a passer-by and he brought it to me. ‘It’s a gift,’ he told me.”
Dimitris Leonidas is the owner of the restaurant Ubarlucky that is about to open on Tsakalof Street in the upscale Kolonaki neighborhood and plans to sign his establishment up for the scheme as well. “Times are still tough,” he says. “Care and a smile: That’s what we need.”
Establishments that are part of this or Schedia’s program display a special sign on their doors. For more information, log on to Schedia’s website (www.shedia.gr) or visit the Se Anamoni campaign's page on Facebook.