Inspired by photos of refugees washing up on beaches of Greek islands, and driven by their Orthodox Christian faith, a group from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo, Ohio completed a successful campaign to collect and ship 25 large boxes filled with clothing, toiletries, diapers and other items for incoming refugees on the island of Samos.
Kelly Yakumithis, a parishioner at the Cathedral, along with Presvytera Jenny Legakis pored over internet sites, researching where their donations could help the most. With some family connections (Kelly’s grandfather-in-law was from Samos) the team came into contact with the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation on Samos.
Not a refugee center but a group of scientists involved in marine conservation, the Archipelagos Institute spends most of its time and energy researching and protecting the biodiversity of the Greek seas and islands of the region of the northeast Aegean. But Samos, like other Greek islands along the Aegean Sea border with Turkey, was inundated with refugees over the summer and into the fall and the scientists converted their research facility into a rescue and holding area for refugees.
A Facebook post from August 9 showed how the role of the marine biologists and preservationists turned from marine protection to human protection.
Αυτή τη στιγμή είναι περίπου 700 άτομα και δεν έχουν καθόλου νερό. Εμείς μαζεύουμε τώρα να τους πάμε νερά και μπισκότα.
(At this moment there are 700 people without water. We are gathering water and biscuits to take to them.”
Sometimes these scientists were the first people refugees came into contact with after arriving on land. Not equipped to handle such a crisis, the team from the church in Toledo jumped in to help, organizing a campaign to send the center items they needed to tend to these people.
The organizers created a wish list of items and distributed it to the parish. The response was overwhelming. They started collecting items at church the following Sunday and parishioners showed up with shoes, cold-weather clothing (pants, tops, coats) hats, gloves, head scarves, toiletries, socks, undergarments and toys.
A local high school heard through the Greek-vine that the church was collecting items for refugees and got involved and contributed items to the campaign and a local Girl Scout Troupe also contributed young girls shoes and new socks and undergarments.
Additional donations came from church groups within the Holy Trinity community, including the Philoptochos ladies and the GOYA young people. Many people also gave monetary gifts.
What followed was hours of sorting by members of the community— many of whom came to the church during lunch breaks from work to assist in sorting and boxing.
According to one of the organizers, Kelly Yakumithis, the effort did get some questions and push back from members of the community.
“We did get some resistance, questions and concerns from people on why we would want to donate for the refugee cause. Some people thought the refugees were taking advantage of the Greeks on the islands, that they had much money and the Greeks were being made to suffer more with the influx of refugees. Then there was the ‘terrorist’ question. Can we trust the refugees? There was always the question of why help the refugees, when the Greeks are in such dire need themselves,” Yakumithis told The Pappas Post.
“My answer was always the same,” Yakumithis said. “We are Orthodox Christians, and helping the refugees in turn helps the Greeks. The island of Samos has a population of a little more than 32,000 residents. Since May, Samos has had over 90,000 refugees land on its shores.”
“We cannot expect 32,000 Greeks already in economic crisis to be able to aid refugees that are arriving on their shores whether they like it or not. The people of Samos are already giving all they can. The refugees cannot leave the island to be moved onto other EU countries without the clothing or shoes they need. We can help the Greeks by taking some of that burden off of them and giving them the items these refugees need to move on.”
The team continued, answering any questions and allaying any concerns members of their community had.
Shipping logistics were handled at a discount, thanks to donations of boxes by a local UPS store and Midwest Packaging Solutions and lowered costs by Chicago-based shipping company Kronos International.
The 25 large boxes arrived in Greece and were of huge support to the team at the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation on Samos.