At a neoclassical building at the foothill of the Acropolis hill, a new strong spirit of solidarity generated by the acute four-year economic crisis is giving a ray of hope to hundreds, if not thousands, of people in need.
The "Solidarity to the family" program that has been running over the past two years by the Reception and Solidarity Centre of the Municipality of Athens (KYADA) in collaboration with private companies and volunteers, offers food, essentials and psychological support to about 100 families per semester.
It aims to prevent the "nouveau-poor" households who do not have the traditional profile of homeless or people in need but were hit hard by the crisis, from further deterioration.
The project is only a piece of a puzzle that fills in the gap in the social safety net generated by austerity budget cuts. With unemployment and poverty rates soaring to about 30 percent in crisis-hit Greece, and central state social structures stagnating, municipal authorities, NGOs and volunteers stepped in to offer relief at unprecedented levels.
Solidarity is the word in Greece today. Solidarity emerged as a driving force to ease the pain of the economic meltdown and overcome an unprecedented socio-economic crisis in the country.
"Greece has definitely been in the chaos of an unprecedented economic crisis and for us working for the Municipality of Athens Solidarity Reception Center this is clearly far and beyond an economic crisis," Jenny Varvayanni, KYADA Board of Directors member told Xinhua during a recent tour at KYADA's facilities. "It is a truly humanitarian crisis."
"What we have seen and we have felt is that while the central state has collapsed, the social structures collapsed, more and more people turned to the municipality for help and support," she explained.
So the Municipality of Athens has stepped out of a very strict institutional role and decided to support the people of this city go through the crisis, she added.
Before the crisis, the Municipality provided aid for approximately 3,000 people. Today its social services network offers aid to about 20,000 people, Greeks and foreigners, through a new model of operations that brings together corporate social responsibility funds, institutions, volunteers and NGOs under the coordination of the Municipality to maximize efficiency and results.
KYADA's network includes soup kitchens for 1,000 people on a daily basis, a social grocery where 400 families in need per year get food and household goods on a weekly basis provided by sponsors, as well as a street work program to help the homeless get food, medical assistance and find shelter at guesthouses offering temporary accommodation as a first step to escape social marginalization.
The data presented in a recent KYADA survey is shocking. Several people turning up at the soup kitchens for the first time are not just drug addicts or migrants, but Greeks of the middleclass who can no longer pay their rent and utility bills or buy basic groceries. About 22 percent have completed high school and 18 percent possess a third-level qualification
The social Pharmacy designed and operated by a volunteer pharmacist provides free medicine to people who need medical support but can no longer afford it, such as the uninsured families and low-income senior citizens living below the poverty line.
The drug donations come from hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, doctors, pharmacists and citizens, while specialists offer their time.
The Athens Citizens' Reciprocity Hub housed in an old guardhouse in a central Athens district since 2012 is the new meeting point for donors and recipients.
The program relies on donations, sponsorships and volunteerism for the distribution at regular intervals of food, clothing, toys, medicines, books and medical and psychological aid to the most vulnerable inhabitants of Athens.
The project provides help to about 14,000 registered beneficiaries under the motto "whatever you may no longer need, is important for someone else to have."
So far thousands of people and more than 100 corporations have offered more than 250 tons of basic food, household and school items, etc.
In addition, several Athenians offer their time volunteering to assist their fellow citizens in need.
Manolis Kourkoumelakis, unemployed for more than ten months, works at the Reciprocity Hub on a daily basis. He first joined the program as a short term contract employee.
Once he got laid off due to budget cutbacks, he could not turn his back on the people. He continued working as a volunteer. The feeling he gets at the end of each day is priceless.
"It is great joy for us when people say thank you smiling, when you see people in need leaving the center satisfied," he told Xinhua. "Solidarity certainly helps. That's why I am here and I will stay here offering a helping hand."
According to a recent survey, volunteerism in Greece grows. The social solidarity network is spreading. There has been a 44 percent increase in the number of Greeks taking part in volunteer projects run by municipalities, the Orthodox Church or charity groups since the start of the debt crisis.
"We don't have a tradition of solidarity as a culture, but we know see more and more people that take care of the neighbor next door," Varvayanni said. "So we aspire, we envision that we will build, and we will try to build this and have this to keep as a cultural asset when the crisis is gone."