Volunteering Mothers: Engaging the Crisis in a Soup Kitchen of Northern Greece
Keywords:food, poverty, gender, household, domesticity, solidarity, philanthropy
AbstractThe ‘Bank of Love’ is a soup kitchen administered by the Orthodox Church in the town of Xanthi, Northern Greece. Currently operating amidst economic crisis, the Bank of Love occupies approximately fifty volunteering women who cook and distribute 150 meals to the poor daily. Despite the widespread proliferation of the egalitarian and counter-hegemonic notion of ‘solidarity’, these female cooks do not subscribe to its values. Crucially, however, neither do they embrace the hierarchical idioms of ‘philanthropy’, often understood to occupy the other side of the spectrum. In an effort to depart from analytical dichotomies and designatory taxonomies, which might label the cook’s work as acts of either solidarity or philanthropy, this article uses the multivalent and open-ended concept of ‘engagement’. I pay particular attention to two radically different ‘modalities of engagement’. The first modality is contingent on notions of domesticity and occupies these cooks through their identities as women, housemistresses, and mothers. The second modality appropriates the discourses of volunteerism to transform these women into autonomous agents who enter the public sphere in the name of a good cause. I argue that engaging with ‘engagement’ may not only facilitate an understanding of processes of social transformation vis-à-vis articulations of gender, space, and affect, but also offer insights into the construction of the very object(s) of engagement. The Bank of Love bespeaks of a crisis symbolically constructed through the nexus and obligations of kinship, and of a crisis that provides space for the performance of autonomy and empowerment.