Blessing Bags and Blankets for the Homeless


Offering Dignity and Warmth to Chicago’s Tent Residents

March 2017
Arlene Siavelis Kehl and Katherine Siavelis
St. Andrew’s, Chicago, Illinois
It has always been a part of Philoptochos’ mission “to help the poor, the destitute, the hungry…the unemployed…”, but there are times in all of our lives when we encounter those in need who tug especially at our hearts.  One of those times was in the fall when our St. Andrew’s Women’s Philoptochos Society (SAWPS) and our local Orthodox Christian Fellowship (OCF) students at Loyola University of Chicago learned of a group of homeless people living in tents under four viaducts along Lake Shore Drive in the city’s Uptown neighborhood.
Problems Identified:  How will the residents in the tent cities survive the winter months?  What will happen to those residents if the city takes away their tents and forces them to relocate?  What happens to the viaduct dwellers if there are not enough homeless shelters for them to relocate?
Although we, the SAWPS and the OCF from Loyola, want to be compassionate and solve completely the problems of our fellow men, sometimes we can only offer partial, short-term solutions to help those in need as they face life’s challenges.  This was the case with the residents of the tent cities.
In talking with the residents, we learned that they needed blankets, essential clothing, toiletries and non-perishable foodstuffs, and wanted fast food gift cards to help them get by and survive during the winter and early spring.  These conversations led us to developing our two-gallon size Blessing Bags.  Each Blessing Bag contained a hat, scarf, gloves, socks, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, toothbrush holder, comb, granola bars, fruit snacks and a McDonald’s gift card.  We sourced competitively Blessing Bag supplies along with the Blankets, assembled them, distributed them to the residents, and fundraised for sponsorships to offset the cost of the supplies and blankets.
Short-Term Solution Implemented:  Team of SAWPS members, OCF students and clergy visited the residents of the tent cities to minister to them in their time of need and to provide them with Blessing Bags and Blankets offering these individuals dignity and warmth during the cold months in Chicago.  May God bless the residents, keep them safe, and show how much we at St. Andrew’s care for our fellow men.  



Philoptochos Role Models Are Shining Stars


January 2017
Lekita Essa, Raleigh, North Carolina

My first experiences at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, NC still warm my heart. The outpouring of love and friendship made me want to become a part of the community and get involved.

My nouna, Pota Vallas, one of the founding members of our Philoptochos chapter, brought me to my first Philoptochos meeting. I did not fully understand the meaning of philanthropia or the value of this connection for me. I was moved by its mission statement: to aid the poor, to promote charitable works, to preserve and perpetuate our faith traditions and promote community participation. I found myself wanting to participate and dedicate myself to the work of our Philoptochos chapter.   

Each Philoptochos sister I have come to know has influenced my life and helped form my thoughts and actions. On any given subject, we have as many passionate thoughts and opinions as we have members, but by the end of each meeting, there is consensus.   

In particular, there are four Philoptochos women who have been mentors and role models to me.   

Pota Vallas, my nouna, now 108 years young, inspires me through her life as an immigrant, a business woman and a community leader. She has shown that being a “friend to the poor” is of utmost importance. She has taught me that not everyone has the talent or ability to work an event, but if we can’t be working, we need to be a major consumer or supporter! The key is to be involved and give back.    

Artie Sarayotis and Mitsa Capetanos, two of our “50 plus years” members continue to teach me the true meaning of service.  Mitsa arrived from Greece in 1959. Four days later, she attended her first Philoptochos meeting at Holy Trinity!   Artie moved to Raleigh from New York almost 40 years ago and brought many new ideas. Artie and Mitsa make a great team, having served as chapter officers and event chairpersons, always inspiring others with their leadership and positive approach.   

Each leads by example, selflessly giving their time and talent, teaching that everyone should utilize their unique gifts to help others. Artie, walking spry with a walker and Mitsa, active with her cane, are the first to show up for meetings. Observing their lives and all they give, nudges me to inventory my own life and how I might serve.   

Like many of you, I have the pleasure of having friendships with Philoptochos women from other cities. The enthusiasm of Evan Scurtis for Philoptochos is contagious. Evan lives in Miami and is a long-time Philoptochos member of the St. Sophia parish. A natural leader, she deftly reaches out and serves Philoptochos on the chapter, Metropolis and National levels. She generously shares her knowledge and time with others and inspires those around her to give more of themselves.    

Through the example of her own life, Evan has given me a deeper understanding of the true mission of Philoptochos. Her simple, yet powerful, description of our mission is engraved in my mind and heart, “The core mission of Philoptochos is social service – Philanthropy”. She practices this every day. She seeks to have a positive impact on every life she touches and her dedication to Philoptochos continues to inspire me to do the same.

  
Philoptochos sisters have taught me that we are responsible to give and volunteer with an open heart. We are here to serve, to inspire to work side by side, to be respectful, to teach and be taught.  As we continue our journey of philanthropia, may we always enjoy each other every step of the way!  

Volunteers Make a Difference at St. Michael’s Home


May 2016
Aspasia Melis, Tenafly, New Jersey
 
 
As Philoptochos members, we share the desire to be of service and to give, in some way, our time, talents or compassion to those in need.  One tie that bonds us together was often instilled in our own homes, from our mothers and yiayias, who taught the importance of caregiving and nurturing.  As Greek Orthodox faithful, we place great value on the importance of family.  Our parents and grandparents-- many who journeyed to America for opportunity-- always stressed the importance of the Church and tradition.
 
During my term as President of the Metropolis of New Jersey Philoptochos, I quickly realized the value and beauty of St. Michael’s Home for the Aged, located in Yonkers, New York.  St. Michael’s Home is an adult care facility for the elderly members of our community.   From my first visit to St. Michael’s Home, where I met with the Director, His Grace Bishop Andonios and the beloved residents, I realized that the Philoptochos needed to help this sacred mission of our Church.
 
It was important for me to inform all the Philoptochos chapters in our Metropolis, about
the benefits of St. Michael's Home for the Aged and to ask that they share information about this institution with others in their  communities.  The chapters enthusiastically adopted St. Michael's Home as one of our Metropolis projects. They wanted to work with, and help serve these elderly residents, who were once able to give so much to us.
 
Chapters were encouraged to provide interested members with the opportunity to join an organized group of St. Michael’s Home volunteers. Thirty years later, this group still exists. This is where our caregiving and nurturing is able to shine! We visit the Home to help bring enjoyment and comfort to those whose lives can be sad and lonely. Together we host monthly birthday parties with gifts, cake and singing. We celebrate special holidays such as Greek Independence Day, the Fourth of July and October 28th.
 
In addition, the committee organizes various theme parties for Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Other enjoyable activities include bowling games, exercise classes, dancing, singing, jokes and storytelling. The residents are treated to activities away from St. Michael’s Home. Various Philoptochos chapters host luncheons in their honor and there are dinners at local Greek tavernas. Many groups are invited to perform. These include carolers during the Christmas season, Goyans performing plays during “Sights and Sounds” and bouzouki players who come and fill the air with the favorite music of the residents.
 
Over the years, the volunteers have found their niches and their own ways to help. Some arrange and prepare these events, some decorate, others coordinate songs and dances. There are those who tell jokes that never fail to bring tons of laughter! The rewards for our volunteer work have been so wonderful. To see the residents of St. Michael’s Home enjoying themselves, to hear their laughter, to form special bonds with these individuals, never fails to encourage us to do more for this very special place.
 
Their happiness is our happiness.
 

Membership Growth Takes a Personal Touch

April 2016
Alexis Limberakis, Ambler, PA
Philoptochos is Philanthropy-Fellowship-Faith in Action!
Membership growth and retention is a key component to the success of any organization and Philoptochos is no exception.

Although the annual Membership Drive begins in January, membership growth should be on the agenda of every Philoptochos chapter all year. As members ourselves, we should always realize that this entails the responsibility to let all women in our parish know about the extraordinary work that each Philoptochos chapter does.

Members are the face of Philoptochos and its best recruiting tool! In my experience I have learned that the best way to reach women is the “one on one” approach. I have surprisingly learned that many women had not joined because no one had ever asked them to do so!

I have also been surprised to learn that many women do not know the purpose  of Philoptochos.  This revelation has led me to realize that many of us automatically assume that everyone knows about our philanthropic mission. Or maybe chapters are waiting to  be approached by potential members. Either one of these scenarios will not help increase the membership level of any chapter!
What simple issues to resolve! There are many opportunities to introduce others to our dynamic organization. So often there are new members in a parish or long time parishioners who have never joined. Take a few moments to explain and enlighten these individuals about the scope of our philanthropy!  A friendly smile and an invitation to come to a Philoptochos meeting can go a long way!

Sometimes we are faced with the challenge of changing certain perceptions about Philoptochos. Perceptions that we are simply “the ladies that bake”. While baking is still part of most chapters, it truly is a small part. As members, we need to present the bigger picture of Philoptochos philanthropy, which is certainly not funded only by bake sales.
In the February/March 2016 issue of the Orthodox Observer, it was reported that National Philoptochos disbursed $1.74 million for philanthropy. This impressive figure does not include what the different Metropolis boards disburse nor does it include what the more than 400 local chapters disburse. What a stellar example of philanthropy we have in our parishes! Use this information as a way to educate others on the ability of Philoptochos to help those in need.

I believe that many people, including  younger women and millennials, want to do hands-on outreach and just need an outlet to do so. Philoptochos  offers that avenue. It cannot be overemphasized that the more members we have, the greater effect we will have in changing lives for the better.
It is my hope that all members make that extra effort to bring all Greek Orthodox women into our Sisterhood. Use the personal approach and also be approachable! Women do join because someone reached out to acknowledge and welcome them to experience philanthropy, faith and fellowship in action!

Life Lessons Learned in Philoptochos

December 2015
Thea Martin, Pittsburgh, PA

In Philoptochos, as in life, it is important to cultivate and teach the young. We continually work to come up with ways to engage our young Orthodox women because it is important to keep our organization alive.
When I joined Philoptochos over ten years ago, I was among the youngest members. I was new to my church, newly married, and looking for a way to create a foundation for my future life. Why not Philoptochos?  I was told that Philoptochos was an organization for yiayias who cooked and I probably wouldn’t like it. Perhaps, but my yiayias were no longer on this earth. I had never learned to cook, so at the very least, why not give it a shot?

It was actually very cool. Long standing members would call me after each meeting to gage my thoughts and ask my opinion, but mainly they called to make sure that I would be attending the next monthly meeting. To be honest, the extra attention was what kept me coming back. After all, the snacks were good and I enjoyed the interaction between the women.​ I especially loved the raised voices speaking Greek. I didn’t always understand, but somehow I knew what they were saying. 
We ended each meeting with a prayer and kissed each other good night. Ah…this was a family. My parents divorced when I was very young and my mother was not Greek. I was never part of GOYA, and I never experienced fun, loud, family holidays. But now, sitting around a table with fifteen or so women who openly expressed their thoughts and showed agape to all, it all felt natural to me. I wasn’t quite sure why, but I knew that Philoptochos was going to be a game changer in my life.

It is said that a wise person learns from their mistakes. A wiser person learns from the mistakes of others. But the wisest person learns from the success of others. I am always learning from the successes of more experienced leaders. I have experienced my share of mistakes, but I know that I have learned from them.
First lesson learned:

​It was probably not wise to send an invitation for a Philoptochos event that stated, “Yiayias stay home…you can babysit”. After being elected chapter president, my vice p​resident and secretary (who were also close to my age) ​thought it was time to shake things up a little.  We decided to hold a membership social that would take place in the evening and we put much effort into the planning. 

We designed a postcard that was mailed to over five hundred parish families.
We were excited to let everyone know they would enjoy an evening of creative hors d’oeuvres as well as Philopo-tini’s- our version of a cosmopolitan martini. While focusing on trying to attract young new members, we excitedly expressed an idea to them: “Yiayias stay home….you can babysit”.

Oops. What we thought was lighthearted and funny, ended up upsetting quite a few people. There were many phone calls that week. But in the end, we apologized to those we upset and when the dust settled, we had seventeen new members!
Second lesson learned:

My chapter’s largest fundraiser each year was our Mini Food Fair, a popular community event that raised money for our philanthropy. We younger members had learned a lot from watching our “seasoned” members negotiate with vendors, choose the best products, organize, and plan this huge endeavor. And we learned how to show respect to all.
Sometimes change is difficult, especially if things are working well. Over the years my vice president and I had many ideas that we thought would help our food fair achieve even greater success.

“What if we sold beer and wine at our food fair?” we asked during a meeting. We put numbers together to show the additional amount of money that we could raise. We were pleasantly surprised when there was little objection. We thought was official. That year our food fair would include beer and wine. Then the phone calls began. Some members did not believe that alcohol belonged at a Philoptochos event. Some said they would boycott. Oops again.
We didn’t know what to expect. This was our first attempt at change as leaders of Philoptochos. Here we were again, causing turmoil. My executive board met one evening to talk about leadership and what we hoped to achieve. That was a very special night.  We decided that our term was going to be all or nothing, beginning with the food fair.  With the fair just a few weeks away, any changes that we made needed happen quickly.

After the meeting, we headed to lock the community center doors. We heard chanting upstairs. We headed upstairs to inform whoever was there to lock the doors when they left. In addition, we went outside to see if we knew any cars in the parking lot. We realized that there was no one upstairs and no recognizable cars.
We all looked at each other and left.

That year, the revenue and profit of our fair doubled. The church bulletin’s headline read, “Mini Food Fair, Not So Mini Anymore”.
Looking back, we know the chanting we heard that night was a sign. Everything was going to be okay. And it has been. This year, our renamed Autumn Food Fair made over $60,000. As always, the money raised will go to our Holy Cross Philoptochos mission.

While we honor the traditions and customs we have been handed down, it is important to remember that young members can lend new ideas to our organization. Encouraging them and giving them an opportunity to have a voice helps them feel engaged. We can also learn new lessons from them. Working together, we can make Philoptochos a stronger organization and shepherd it into a bright future.

 

“How did you get involved with Philoptochos?”

November 2015
Diana Jianas, Newport Beach, CA

Many members grew up in the church, with membership a natural progression, “like your mother”.  For others, we became members for one reason only; someone approached us and personally asked us to join.
I am a convert and Greek on my mother’s side. Growing up, with no Greek church close by we attended our local Episcopal church.  When I started to date my future Greek husband Alex, I decided to join the Greek Church.  I was not approached to join Philoptochos so I was content to stay away.  The church we were attending began to experience some difficult challenges and we were moving out of the area so the timing was right for us to start going to a new church, which was not Greek Orthodox.  We attended the church for a couple years but I always felt something was missing.  During this break from Orthodoxy, I did have the extraordinary opportunity to go to the Patriarchate and meet His All-Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew.  After that meeting, I knew I had to make my way back to the Greek Church.

We began attending St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, California.  It is a beautiful church of a modern design and mosaic Byzantine-style iconography, which was quite a change from the traditional Greek Church we had been attending.  Not only did the church look different, the services were conducted in English and the congregation was much younger and very friendly.  I immediately felt like we had found a home.
One Sunday at coffee hour, National Board member Kathy Gabriel personally asked me to join Philoptochos. Her motto, as National Membership chairman, was INVITE, EMBRACE, INVOLVE.  Her invitation has had a lasting impact on my life and I can never thank her enough.

My cousin, Celeste Moschos, who is also on our National Board, told me while on that trip to the Patriarchate, that some of her dearest, closest friendships were a result of her involvement in Philoptochos.  I now know what she meant as I cherish my friendships with fellow Chapter, Metropolis and National Philoptochos sisters.
Reach out to someone who might just be waiting for that invitation. Perhaps you will find that they just wanted to feel included. As Philoptochos members we need to reach members through personal contact and by extending that invitation, it could change their life too.

 

The Joy of Cooking


October 2015
Valine Georgeson, Atlanta, Georgia

We have all heard comments from time to time from individuals who express a desire that Philoptochos eliminate all forms of cooking from its activities. In their mind, cooking is not an activity that will attract new members or keep current members interested. The idea of pastry baking is sometimes equated with the end of the world!
Well, I am here to talk about the pleasure and value of cooking together as Philoptochos women! As someone who has done a great deal of cooking and baking for Philoptochos fundraising and hospitality, I have come to realize that when our members are cooking together, there is so much more happening in the kitchen than food preparation.

What do I mean by this?
The kitchen is a great place to teach and to be taught. Of course, you can learn recipes or cooking techniques, but often the lessons taught or the dialogue exchanged has nothing to do with food.

Cooking inspires memory and when hands are busy, our chefs will share stories from their lives, loving, painful or humorous, with words that they might not share in another setting.
And laughter! We laugh a great deal when we cook and what better way to bond and enjoy volunteer work than in a lighthearted atmosphere? One friend always says that our cooking projects are the best therapy in the world.

I love, that even in 2015, we continue certain cooking traditions and that the recipes we use were handed down from members who are no longer with us. Hand-crafted food items are such a huge focus in the food world. I like to think that Philoptochos has been way ahead of that trend for a very long time!
And here is another great thing about cooking together. In my large parish in Atlanta, there are many individuals who are newcomers or who are recent converts to Orthodoxy. It is not always easy to meet parishioners when coming to a new church. So many times women have learned about a Philoptochos cooking project. They walk in the door knowing no one, and leave with a different sense of community. Working together with others means that you learn names, or as is often the case, the newcomer finds that she shares many acquaintances with those already there. Once a new convert thanked us for welcoming her and noted that she now felt “part of the team”.

Our members are talented and gifted in so many areas. They are constantly creating new ways and projects to address fundraising and membership. We need these ideas to grow and serve those whom we are charged with helping. Let’s always continue to encourage this kind of creativity and thinking outside the box.
But let’s not lock those kitchen doors!

Cooking with and for Philoptochos is a good thing.