The line of people desperate for lunch is an image more from the developing world than the country where Western civilization was founded more than two millennia ago.
Yet the 1,200 who waited for bread, rice and vegetable soup at a kitchen visited by CNBC this week are just a fraction of the many hungry people in Athens and the surrounding area, as the noose of austerity tightens around the Greek population.
The elderly and sick are fed first. Men get their food next, and there are plenty of scuffles in the line as women and children wait patiently for their turn.
Emotions run from quiet despair to rage – the sort of rage that has boosted votes for anti-bailout parties such as leftist Syriza and right-wing Golden Dawn in recent months, and could see Syriza become the biggest party in Greece after Sunday’s elections .
One elderly homeless man who has been visiting the kitchen for eight months said he didn’t want to ask for help from the state, and quickly became angry when asked how he got into this situation.
Many of those in the line are recent immigrants from countries such as Albania, Bulgaria and Turkey who have found themselves unable to cope when the better future they hoped for vanished. Around 70 percent of the people served by the kitchen are immigrants, according to Mary Pini, who runs the kitchen. At other kitchens in the area, 100 percent of those lining up are Greeks who have fallen on hard times.
She believes it’s important to feed immigrants in case they become desperate enough to turn to crime. “If the Church doesn’t feed the immigrants…then nobody will and the criminality will reach its zenith,” she told CNBC.
Around 20,000 people in Attica (the area which covers Athens and its surroundings and has a population of around 4 million people in total) go each day to soup kitchens run by the Orthodox Church and private donors.
Georgia Exarchou, volunteer cook for the soup kitchen, confirmed that the numbers are steadily increasing.
“We get stuff all the time from the church and shops and the people and so we can provide,” she said.
And, according to Pini, it is increasingly the family from “next door”—hit by the rise in unemployment to 21.9 percent, pay cuts, and price rises for transport and other day-to-day activities—who has to go to the kitchen.
Written by Catherine Boyle, CNBC. Twitter: @catboyle01