NEW YORK – On May 13, Orthodox Christians celebrated 25 years of global philanthropic outreach by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC), the official humanitarian agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America, at a reception held in the Chiotes Hall of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York.
Local volunteers, led by event chair Marina A. Belessis-Casoria, organized the reception. Among those in attendance were Fr. John Vlahos, Dean of the Archdiocesan Cathedral, and members of the IOCC Board including Charles J. Hinkaty, and IOCC Development Officer Louis Zagami, both of whom spoke eloquently at the event about the organization’s life-saving humanitarian interventions as an expression of the Orthodox faith. There are an estimated 800,000 Orthodox faithful who live in the Tri-State area.
The second-annual fundraising event featured wine and hors d’oeuvres and a short film presentation followed by a Q&A session with Zagami.
Hinkaty began his remarks by saying Christ is Risen in different languages to which those in attendance replied Truly He is Risen, demonstrating the variety of nationalities present. He noted the efforts in various countries including the farming cooperative in Northern Greece and programs to feed those affected by the economic crisis.
The film highlighted IOCC’s worldwide efforts through the eyes of volunteers like Natasa Samardzic who was a teenager during the wars in the former Yugoslavia and was among the many people helped by IOCC at that time. Coming to the US as a refugee and settling in Chicago, Samadzic noted how the organization makes a difference in people’s lives. She now volunteers for the IOCC, helping others in need.
The Q&A session provided answers and clarification to many in attendance about how IOCC delivers its aid and how everyone can volunteer and support the ongoing efforts in a variety of ways. Zagami noted that “an average of 92 cents on every dollar donated has gone directly to assisting the people IOCC serves. On average, every dollar given has helped us secure $7 in support from public and private institutional sources.”
He observed that IOCC is a top rated charity with a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, America’s largest and most-utilized independent evaluator of charities. This is the highest ranking that a charity can receive for its sound business practices, including financial accountability and transparency.
IOCC was formed by the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), the predecessor to the modern-day Assembly, in 1992 along with lay leaders Mr. Charles R. Ajalat, Mr. Andrew A. Athens, and Mr. John G. Rangos, Sr. IOCC is also grateful for the faithful support of honorary board members Mr. George M. Marcus and the late Dr. George J. Farha, who both played essential roles in ensuring its growth and continued service over the last 25 years.
IOCC united the efforts of Orthodox Christians in response to the historic upheaval caused by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the wars in the former Yugoslavia, which displaced 2.5 million people. Since then, IOCC has provided more than $600 million in humanitarian assistance to vulnerable people in more than 60 countries.
IOCC was created in 1992 in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union and to support innocent people caught in the crosshairs of war in former Yugoslavia, which is represented by the silver anniversary’s theme: “Inspired by Faith, Driven by Purpose.”
Today, IOCC is one of the only US-based humanitarian organizations operating on the ground in Syria and also implements programs in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Greece to support refugees. In addition, IOCC’s Give for Greece program provides assistance to Greek families whose livelihoods have been devastated by the ongoing financial crisis through food aid and job-creation programs in the agricultural sector. Elsewhere, IOCC is building schools in Haiti, helping the people of Ethiopia to combat podoconiosis and provide mobility for disabled persons, and supporting economic development programs in places like Kosovo and Gaza.
Mark D. Stavropoulos is IOCC’s Chairman of the Board, who leads a diverse group of philanthropists and community leaders, all of whom represent IOCC’s pan-Orthodox constituencies. He commented on IOCC’s silver anniversary: “It has been my deep privilege to serve alongside my fellow Board Members, IOCC’s dedicated staff across the globe, our exceptional partners in the Orthodox Church, and our partner organizations to help those in need. We take care to select projects that are able to achieve the longest-possible impact amongst the highest-number of beneficiaries. And though our programs are meant to provide for others, our inspiring beneficiaries provide the entire IOCC team with immeasurable love, hope, and wisdom that keeps us humble in our work.”
More information is available at www.iocc.org.