VIDEO: Churches Hit the Street for Poor, Migrant
OMONIA- Seven days a week at 2:55pm you’ll find them quietly lined up on Sofokleous St; immigrants, refugees, drug addicts, alcoholics, the poor. Come 3pm, most of them have squeezed inside a municipal lot, queued up to receive food food from the “Church in the Streets” – a new coalition of Greek, Anglican and African churches determined to look after the physical needs of Athens’ most desperate.
Every day for the last three months, the Church of Greece’s NGO Allelegi or “Solidarity” has provided volunteers from Anglican and African parishes with 1,500 meals to hand out. The aluminum tins generally involve rice or pasta and some meat along with a piece of bread and water. Most of the time there are just enough meals.
Sometimes there aren’t.
It’s an unprecedented partnership and a welcome complement to the City of Athens’ other efforts to keep migrants from fulfilling their needs through more desperate means. (The City has two food handouts, 12pm and 6pm daily)
“As Christian churches we can work together to have an impact in the society,” says Fr. Vincent Kluvia, President of the African Pastors Association, “particularly meeting the physical needs of the people. Whether the person is Christian or Muslim or whatever background he comes from, the most important thing is … to help them feel like human beings.”
Kluvia is in a unique position since he knows the migrant experience. He has preached to and served Athens’ African communities for two decades with little or no recognition.
But Kluvia’s efforts did not go entirely unnoticed. Canon Malcolm Bradshaw of the Anglican Church, who himself has been an advocate for Athens’ needy, knew of Kluvia’s work and had a close relationship to Fr. Gabriel, now Vicar General of the Church of Greece. Bradshaw connected Kluvia to Fr. Gabriel, who in turn is connected to the Archbishop of Athens and All Greece, Ieronymos.
According to Canon Bradshaw, Fr. Gabriel realized that the Church of Greece lacks “street-level” connections to those migrants most in need. So he invited the African Pastors of Athens to the Holy Synod to explain — for an hour and a half — the help they need.
One thing you, unfortunately, won’t take away from the article in the Athens News is how much Fr. Gabriel of the Greek Orthodox Church has been a driving force behind this project. He was out of the country while I was reporting the story and “Solidarity” wasn’t able to fit in an interview. It was Fr. Gabriel who channeled food that didn’t make its way into Gaza to those in need of it locally.
As a result, Gabriel channeled 9 months of food supplies that were gathered for Gaza but never made it through to the African and Anglican pastors. A Greek Orthodox Priest comes each day but volunteers from the other churches hand out the food by and large.
Kluvia and Bradshaw envision the program lasting longer than the six months of food they have left. An appeal has gone out to food producers in Greece to assist the program. There are plans to add clothing distribution to the hand-outs.
Location is also an issue. The hope is to distribute food at two or three sites instead of one and in neighborhoods where migrants are more concentrated.
“We’ll go to them where they happen to be,” Bradshaw says.
The site at 66 Sofokleous used to make sense. But recent police raids had scattered the migrants. Bradshaw thinks some have returned — and in more desperate condition than before.