Piscataway, December 15, 2015
Thirty-one boxes bursting with winter clothing, coats, boots, blankets, hats, gloves, scarves, diapers and toys left St. George Greek Orthodox Church on Dec. 3 to bring hope and warmth to some of the thousands of Syrians flooding the refugee camp of Eidomeni, Kilkis, in northern Greece.
Called "Heartfelt Action," the project was completed in just two weeks after a large community response.
Church member Alexandra Avgitidis was inspired to start "Heartfelt Action" after watching the evening news and seeing the devastation experienced by the Syrian refugees. After doing some research, she found that more than 6,000 refugees arrive on the Greek islands every day.
Eidomeni, a small town in northern Greece, is the sole crossing point between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). This camp is just one stop on the dangerous journey endured by the refugees as they travel to the safety of greater Europe, said Avgitidis, project coordinator of "Heartfelt Action."
From there, they were put on boats to Piraeus and Athens, then packed on buses to go to the refugee camp in Eidomeni. According to Avgitidis, the refugees then rest for a few days before continuing on foot to Skopje, FYROM, where they would be either be bused or continue on foot to more stable situations.
Recently, many Balkan nations have closed their borders to the refugees, so their stay in Eidomeni is extended. Most refugees arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs and the children in their arms. With winter coming, Avgitidis was moved to act.
"My grandparents and my husband's grandparents were also refugees coming from Turkey to Greece in the 1920s," said Avgitidis, who lives in the township. "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."
"History is repeating itself. The least we can do is ease the pain it inflicts on the unfortunate victims," she said.
After making phone calls to family in northern Greece, Avgitidis was connected with a group of volunteers from Eidomeni and nearby Polykastro organized by the Eidomeni Coordinating Refugee Help. The volunteer group has been feeding and clothing the arriving refugees in Eidomeni, at the border of Greece and FYROM.
"They took it upon themselves to help the refugees," she said.
The volunteers described to her the humanitarian crisis occurring 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 the replacement of these refugees.
A few nongovernmental organizations started operating in Eidomeni in the last few weeks, but the number of arriving refugees is so great that the situation has become volatile and dangerous, Avgitidis said.
With the support of St. George Greek Orthodox Church, the two-week initiative was launched on Nov. 11 with a Facebook campaign and 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 Syrians arriving in Eidomeni.
"Heartfelt Action" 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, which donated the packing boxes as well as a portion of the shipping cost. AgapeMatch.com, The Pappas Post and parishioner donations covered the rest.
The boxes are expected to arrive in Eidomeni around the December holidays, Avgitidis said.
"The response of the community was overwhelming and there were times when I was moved to tears," Avgitidis said. "Some people did not just donate their used clothing but actually went out and bought blankets, towels, children's coats."
Avgitidis called the movement "Heartfelt Action" and is very pleased at how much the community opened its heart.
"We will warm a child, a mother, a family, and this thought will warm our own hearts," she said. "My favorite box is 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."