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ATHENS, Greece — As the financial crisis wreaks havoc on everyday life, a soup kitchen run by a Greek-American is no longer just serving the city’s homeless but also residents facing economic hardship.
More and more struggling locals are relying on Themis Sirinides, who once ran a New Jersey pizza shop, and his kitchen in Athens' Koukaki district to eat.
"That tells me that the situation is getting worse, that people are going to suffer even more,” Sirinides told NBC News.
Emotions are running high in debt-ridden Greece, which is already in default to the International Monetary Fund for $1.6 billion after failing to reach an agreement with European creditors who are demanding more austerity in exchange for rescue loans.
As Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras prepares for Sunday’s national referendum on the latest European proposals, the country’s banks remain closed and cash withdrawals tightly restricted.
Maria Koutroumpa, 56, is a regular visitor to Sirinides’ soup kitchen. She still has a home, but no money after her pension was slashed late last year. “I have to come to places like this one to eat,” she told NBC News. “It’s unfair that the politicians make mistakes and the people pay the price for it.”
Emanuel Mirzas, 67, has been retired for more than a year but has yet to receive any of his pension and also relies on soup kitchens to eat. “They keep saying ‘next month, next month,’ but nothing. There is no money left in Greece.”
Amid the uncertainty, Sirinides hopes the government can resolve the crisis.
“Greece is going through some very, very difficult times right now,” he said. “We pray and hope that our politicians will make the right decisions. We have entrusted them and we respect their authority and we just pray that they make wise decisions to solve these problems.”
American volunteers at Sirinides’ kitchen said the world needs to be reminded of the human face of this crisis.
“The government hasn’t been perfect,” said Natalie Black, 23, from Arizona. “But that doesn’t disqualify [Greeks] from deserving a fulfilling and successful life, just like everyone in America is always hoping and vying for.”
“We never would have thought that coming here we would be doing it this way,” said Leyla Tulloch, 21, from Hawaii. "But whatever they need, we are here for them.”
Sarah Burke reported from London.