Thirty one boxes of hope shipped from New York to the Greek border town of Idomeni as part of an initiative launched by the granddaughter of Greek refugees who saw it as her duty to do something to help by mobilizing her church community.
On Thursday, December 3, 2015, 31 boxes bursting with winter clothing, coats, boots, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, diapers, and toys left St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Piscataway, NJ, to bring hope and warmth to some of the thousands of Syrians flooding the refugee camps of Idomeni, Kilkis, in northern Greece.
The small town in northern Greece, is the sole crossing point between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This camp is just one stop on the dangerous journey endured by the refugees as they travel to northern Europe.
The campaign was named “Heartfelt Action” and was warmly embraced by the entire church community.
Alexandra Avgitidis, coordinator of “Heartfelt Action” was inspired to start this initiative after viewing the devastation experienced by the Syrian refugees daily via the evening news. After doing some research she found that over 6,000 refugees were arriving on the Greek islands daily, and from there were put on boats to Piraeus and Athens. Then they were packed on buses to go to the refugee camp in Idomeni. There they rest for a few days before continuing on-foot to Skopje, FYROM, where they would continue their journeys to more stable situations.
With many Balkan nations recently closing their borders to these refugees, their stay in Eidomeni has been extended. Avgitidis also learned that most refugees arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs and the children in their arms. With winter coming, she was moved to act.
“My grandparents and my husband’s grandparents were also refugees coming from Turkey to Greece in the 1920’s. Watching these people arriving to Greece in the same condition as our grandparents did, with a child in their arms and nothing else, I was seeing my grandparents in their faces. The same agony, the same uncertainty, the same devastation. I had to do something to help these refugees and at the same time honor our grandparents’ memory,” Alexandra said. “History is repeating itself, the least we can do is ease the pain on the unfortunate victims.”
After making phone calls to family in northern Greece, she was connected with a group of volunteers from Idomeni and nearby Polykastro organized by the Idomeni Coordinating Refugee Help who took it upon themselves to feed and cloth the arriving refugees in Idomeni. These volunteers described a massive humanitarian crisis unfolding there – thousands of refugees arriving daily, the lack of food and basic necessities, as well as the current inability of the European governments to decide how to proceed with their replacement. The number of arriving refugees is so great that the situation has become volatile and dangerous.
With the support of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, the two-week initiative was launched on November 11th with a Facebook campaign with a call to action throughout the St. George Community. Parishioners opened their closets and drawers in an effort to send hope, love and warmth to the refugees arriving in Idomeni.
The initiative collected hundreds of coats, scarves, hats, blankets, boots, toys, and diapers among other necessities, as well as messages of hope from the parishioners. The 31 boxes were shipped by Argos Packing and Shipping, who kindly donated the packing boxes as well as a portion of the shipping costs. AgapeMatch.com, The Pappas Post and parishioner donations covered the rest of the transatlantic shipping costs. The boxes will arrive in Idomeni around the Holidays.
Dozens of young Sunday School students from the community drew cards of support intended for young refugee children. Some drew images of their church, while others shared personal thoughts with children they would probably never meet. “Feel better,” one of the cards read, while another showed two stick figure children with frowns and smiles, hoping the cards would turn the children’s negative experiences into happy ones with the donated items.
“The response of the community was overwhelming and there were times when I was moved to tears,” Alexandra said. “Some people did not just donate their used clothing, but actually went out and bought blankets, towels, and children’s coats. I had to use airless bags to manage the packaging to fit everything at minimum cost. I called this movement “Heartfelt Action” and more than anything, our community opened its heart.”
“We will warm a child, a mother, a family and this thought will warm our own hearts. My favorite box is the the one filled with small stuffed animals. Imagine a child that has nothing holding a toy while walking the long trek to Europe. In the boxes there are notes from families and drawings with good wishes from our Sunday School children to be given to the refugees. We want them to know they are in our thoughts and give them hope for their future.”