Christmas is the time of year when we all remember people with social inequalities and we want to be around them at least on this day. The Athens municipality organized a holiday lunch for the homeless and the needing people in the building on 70 Sofokleous street in the center of the Greek capital. I remember that in the university neighborhood, together with the girls from my class we called this part of Athens “The small Pakistan”.
I went there in a taxi and the cab driver asks me: “What does a girl like you look for in the worst part of Athens?”. “I’m a journalist”, I answer. In the beginning of Sofokleous I notice unusual excitement. Emigrants from different ends of the world have gathered in small groups in front of entrances and places with dark windows. Some of them are carrying big sacks with counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags, others are exchanging goods hand to hand. One boy is sitting on the sidewalk with a needle in the hand and is carefully looking for a vain, in which to stick the needle.
In this picture I can't see Christmas, love, joy or hope anywhere. The street looks like a scene from the Robert Rodriguez movie Planet Terror, exactly at the point when everybody starts to turn into a zombie. I am thinking that no human power could help those people. When we reach the address, the cab driver looks concerned: “Here is dangerous even on Christmas. Make sure one of your colleagues sees you home when you are leaving,” he says and leaves.
I enter the back yard of the foundation for homeless people and people in need of the Athens municipality. They City Hall took care of setting tables outside with white tablecloths, on which the guests of the Christmas fiesta could get something to eat. In case it rains, white tents have been set up. There are people of all ages, nationalities and cultures – young and old, men and women, children and elderly, healthy, sick, people dependent on substances, homeless. They are all calm. They stand in line in order to get a large portion stuffed turkey, garnished with potatoes and salad as well as a soft drink.
The deputy-mayor of Athens and the director of the Foundation for helping the homeless Elefterios Skiadas is the person who drives the whole organization process and is responsible for all the activities since its creation. For GRReporter Skiadas said: “The foundation exists since the year 2005. Our mission is all people with social inequalities to have access to warm food twice a day 365 days a year. Our foundation works every day, we give out 3500 – 4000 portions to all needing people who look for our support.” The director said that the community, the trading companies and private individuals support and finance the charity organization activity. “Hundreds of small and large corporations and companies support us. Just today here are over 70 volunteers, who are helping us organize this event. In days like today the society shows its good face.”
The assurance of free food is just one of the activities of the municipal foundation. The free municipal pharmacy is another initiative of the Athens organization where citizens who do not have social security and do not receive any social aid can get drugs of first need. Doctors, psychologists give free counseling and examinations to the needing and are available every day. The municipality has taken care of the creation of a free supermarket, which gives free foodstuffs to around 200 families monthly, as well as an Athens market where free clothes for children and elderly could be found.
The insurance of a shelter in the municipal buildings, turned into hotels is another one of the activities of the foundation. At the moment the premises have 180 beds, which are available for homeless and people in need, who want warm and clean place to stay. An employee of the foundation said that in most of the cases when organized events take place the homeless refuse the shelter. She says: “Those people are used to the philosophy of the street, this is their life and we cannot force them to use the municipal shelter. This doesn’t mean that we will stop helping the people in need."
On Christmas day we realize the truth that the world is big and salvation can come from everywhere. It’s just enough to want to be saved.