There’s a rat nailed to the door of the Soul Food Kitchen. That might be enough to put most people off entering, but not here. And not this rat. It’s a Ratatouille stuffed toy, pinned to the door in good humour. It sets the tone for my day at one of the most important projects I’ve had the pleasure of working at as a volunteer in Greece.
Last week, I introduced Help Refugees as part of a six week series highlighting the work of charities and voluntary groups working with refugees in Northern Greece. This week, my focus is on the Soul Food Kitchen. Based at the back of the Help Refugees Warehouse, the kitchen feeds those who otherwise have no access to hot food. They cook and distribute more than 300 meals a day for people from migrant and Greek communities living rough in Thessaloniki.
I’m immediately made to feel welcome by the volunteers in the kitchen. Within minutes of arriving, I’ve been given the grand tour, I’ve had hygiene instructions and I’m elbows deep in a bucket of onions. By the time I’ve peeled and chopped well over 100 onions, my eyes have given up but my spirits certainly haven’t. How could they, amongst a team of troopers with an ‘all for one’ mentality?
The European Musketeers
I’m surrounded by a team of international chatterboxes, jokers and people with the most interesting stories. I’m intrigued by the range of languages and the fact that they hardly present a barrier at all. Instructions are given in Spanish. Meals are counted out in German. Anecdotes are delivered in English and we chit-chat in French. There are greetings in both Greek and Arabic. We mostly understand each other, but when we don’t, we teach each other. It’s a global community; a real European Union. Among the volunteers are refugees; all working, all equal. There are no borders to this European Union.
It’s Got Soul
The Soul Food Kitchen in aptly named. It’s rich with character, bursting with personality and filled with elements that make it feel like it’s almost alive. This is not a kitchen that serves up some slop for the masses. Here, every meal is made with healthy, nourishing ingredients by people who care about the people they feed. It’s simple and it’s basic, but it’s wholesome food for the soul. Everything is vegetarian due to the wide range of religious beliefs and dietary requirements of the people catered for. Meals are planned using all available resources and with budget restrictions in mind. Part funded by Help Refugees, part by private donors, the Soul Food Kitchen runs on kindness.
Supporting the Local Economy
One of my favourite things about the Soul Food Kitchen is that money spent on food is spent locally. Relationships and the personal touch are important at Soul Food Kitchen, and so, products are bought from local farms and suppliers to give something back to an economy that was struggling even before it was put under the strain of the refugee crisis.
The Crazy Bosnian
Soul Food Kitchen is socially responsible and not just because that’s what they should do. In a sector which can sometimes be tinged with politics, territoriality and personal gain, Soul Food Kitchen is one of the few truly genuine voluntary organisations. I’m convinced that this comes down to one thing; the passion of Soul Food Daddy, Pixi. He’s known affectionately throughout the volunteer community as The Crazy Bosnian, but I think that’s too easy. I think he’s the kind of person you’re lucky to meet once in a lifetime because people like him are rare and special and they quietly leave their imprint on the world in some of the best possible ways.
Let me explain.
Pixi has spent 18 months cooking for refugees. He’s gone wherever the need was greatest. The 300 meals his kitchen now makes daily is nothing compared to the thousands of people he fed at the height of the crisis in Idomeni, the camp on Greece’s borders with Macedonia where thousands of refugees were stranded when the borders closed. He lives in a wooden shed, essentially a box, at the back of the warehouse next to his kitchen. When the construction team (the ‘Get Sh*t done team‘) insulated his box recently, Pixi’s gratitude was beyond any I have ever witnessed. He talked about it with pride for weeks.
I asked Pixi lots of questions about the kitchen and the process of setting it up, funding it, maintaining it. Mostly, though, I wanted to know more about a man who dedicated so much to refugees, and now also to the homeless of Greece. He keeps his answer simple, but filled with a furious passion. “If you are hungry, I will feed you.”
And he does
Every morning, without fail and without complaint, the volunteers at Soul Food Kitchen show up. Each, I’m sure, has their own reason for being here. Whatever those reasons are, they bring their chatter and their jokes. They bring the soul to this kitchen.
Volunteer, Support, Donate
If you’d like to volunteer (I promise, the onions aren’t that bad!), or if you’d like to make a donation to support the Soul Food Kitchen, you can contact them or click the ‘donate’ button on the Soul Food Kitchen Facebook Page.
I’ll be posting the next in the Volunteering Series next Wednesday at 6pm. Don’t miss it, make sure to follow the facebook page for all latest updates. And as always, I love to hear from you, so don’t be shy! Leave a comment below or get in touch if you have any questions.