While others gathered with family and friends, celebrating the Christmas holiday, Maria Makroyanni spent the day in her kitchen, preparing meals for what she calls, her island’s most destitute people.
Maria, known throughout the world by her nickname Mama Maria, has cooked thousands of meals over the past several years, ever since she watched the first refugee mom walk in front of her seaside taverna on the island of Samos.
She doesn’t remember the exact year… 2015, 2016 she says… but the image will stay with her forever.
“I was sitting at a table at my taverna and all of the sudden, I saw a woman walking on the beach, fully clothed with a headscarf and all, soaking wet and carrying a child. She was visibly pregnant, too,” Maria explains.
The refugee crisis on the Greek islands was just beginning to infold and the sight of people arriving on rafts from neighboring Turkey was strange to locals, including Mama Maria.
She immediately sprung to action and greeted wet, hungry refugees who had braved hours on flimsy rafts, with a plate of food at her taverna.
As the days, months and years passed, Maria continued cooking and welcoming people into her taverna— and her home— with open arms and plates full of food.
Her work has caught the attention of media and refugee relief agencies, globally.
Today, she no longer runs her taverna and has moved her operation to her kitchen at home. She prepares meals and places them in plastic containers and together with her partner Michali, delivers them to the refugee camp on Samos, where thousands live in dreadful conditions and await asylum paperwork to be completed.
“This is Christmas,” Maria said. “Jesus was a refugee too and was turned away. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem and he was born in a stable,” Maria explains.
Over the years, although Maria has fed thousands mostly with her own meager earnings and pension, several individuals and organizations have stepped up to help, including a campaign by the readers of The Pappas Post, and the New York City based Greek America Foundation, which provided Mama Maria with financial support to buy food, with a grant from the Saints Peter and Paul Philoptochos in Glenview, Illinois.
“I’d much rather spend my day cooking and giving these people love and compassion, who were forced to leave their homes and flee bombs and war and famine, just like Mary and Joseph fled King Herod.”