One of the things I learned from my upbringing was to never question when someone less-fortunate needed help.
“Help first, then ask questions,” my dad would tell me when I worked shifts at the Chateau Restaurant and Lounge on Pittsburgh’s North Side as a kid.
The restaurant was in a bit of a rough neighborhood and I was always perplexed at my dad’s willingness to offer free food— often to random people or groups. The Pittsburgh Steelers football players always got free lunches at my dad’s place. Their training facility was nearby and they often came for some good old diner food after a tough practice session.
And the police too.
“Celebrities and cops are always free,” my dad explained. The celebrities because they bring more people and the police because they protect us.
And then there were the homeless and the poor— from the surrounding neighborhood of Manchester, a run-down neighborhood that had seen its share of problems.
You always give first and ask questions later— if someone needs food, you help them.
I often questioned my dad’s business acumen as I grew older, asking him about cost of goods and food, the profit and loss margin on the free food we were giving and whether or not he could really afford to give away all this free food.
“Shame on you,” he responded, asking me if I’ve ever been deprived of anything at home. He reminded me that despite his regular giving, I always had clothes on my back, food on my table and everything I asked for, so obviously… the restaurant was doing well.
A Facebook post on my newsfeed reminded me of my long-departed dad today, because I think it’s what he would have done.
Liana Denezaki shared a few pictures that were shot by Odysseas Galanakis in central Victorias Square in Athens, showing a 92 year old woman unloading and distributing bags and bags of sandwiches and cakes that she, herself, prepared.
The recipients were destitute and homeless refugees who have filled the squares of Athens, because of several Balkan nations’ unilateral decision to close the borders.
Liana wrote, “at first glance, I thought it was a lady, coming back from a Sunday stroll, or shopping at a nearby store. I thought she was a resident of the area and was heading home with her shopping bags.”
Eventually, the Greek nonagenarian— 92 years old, to be exact, began passing out carefully wrapped sandwiches and cake that she said, she herself, prepared.
I write this today with a heart full of gratitude for being raised the Greek way, by my own father and mother. Because despite what you hear about racism, xenophobia and fear— this IS the Greek way. We invented philoxenia thousands of years ago and it has become embedded in our cultural DNA as a people.
Philoxenia and philotimo, which we as Greeks pride ourselves on, shouldn’t be selective. Otherwise it’s fake.
I’m sorry that it’s slipped away from some— but knowing that this grandmother is passing these lessons on to her children, is heartwarming.