ATHENS – The Ladies Union of Drama – Open Hospitality House is a small-scale non-profit philanthropic agency with a big heart that makes a big impact helping families in Northeast Greece.
Established in the city of Drama to look after widows and orphans in 1904 by the revered Metropolitan Chrysostomos, who later served and was martyred in Smyrna, the agency consists of dynamic women, full-time staffers and volunteers.
In 2019, a Food Bank was added to its wide-ranging social services – one of four branches outside Athens of Food Bank Greece – that serves the needs of 1700 family members.
In 2020, The Hellenic Initiative (THI) funded a full-time food bank position for an entire year with a 15,000 euro grant.
The timing of both actions could not have been better and the women have already risen to the COVID-19 challenge – for example, they stepped in to help feed families throughout the Prefecture of Drama when the soup kitchens of the Church had to shut down.
“When the lockdown began we did not cease our operations. We adjusted, bringing food to people's homes with our van,” said Program Director Xrisa Kelaidi. They also rapidly made their office operations compatible with the COVID-19 measures and also learned how to more effectively use the internet both for operations and fundraising.
The Ladies Union also further developed its Mobile School program for children of underprivileged communities – including often invisible and forgotten groups in society like the Roma – applying COVID-19 best practices for such programs learned from other parts of Europe.
The Ladies Union is also one of Greece's many volunteerism success stories. “We invite people who have doubts about volunteerism in Greece to visit Drama and meet our President, Aliki Tsiamoura, and see how we operate. Seventy percent of our work is performed by volunteers. We have nine employees and 20 volunteers.”
The position funded by THI has been filled and is responsible for general control of the food bank, which is part of the Food Bank Greece network established in 1995 with the dual goal of combating hunger and waste. It cooperates with particular food companies and with the Federation of Hellenic Food Industries (SEVT), and is a member of the European Food Banks Federation (FEBA).
The teams ensure that food which cannot be absorbed by the market is offered free of charge to individuals and institutions.
While Athens is far away, Kelaidi said citizens and officials there are on the lookout for ways to help with social services in the provinces, but they need to be persuaded of the effectiveness of the groups seeking assistance – something the Ladies Union has worked hard to achieve.
“As we were able to obtain some EU funds and gain experience, our reputation began to rise among the major Greek Foundations,” Kelaidi said.
Their success breeds in the workers and volunteers not a desire for recognition but a sense of obligation to contribute even more to society.
Kelaidi, whose roots are on the island of Thasos, said, “We told the Athenians we are here, and can create corresponding agencies in Athens and the rest of Greece.”
After thanking THI, saying “your assistance helped hire a specialist who enables our Food Bank to serve Eastern Macedonia and Thrace,” Tsiamoura shared her personal and organizational philosophy: “When we support our fellow man, we support ourselves, and when we help others, we find personal inner peace.”
THI Board Member Jeremy Downward said, “For over 100 years, the Ladies Union of Drama is providing the essentials and much needed support to the people of Drama. With our gift we are helping them achieve even more. THI will help their story to be heard outside of Greece.”
THI's Program Director Michael Printzos said, “Securing food aid for people in need has proven to be of even greater importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our gift will allow the Ladies Union of Drama to donate over 5,500 kg of food, otherwise wasted, to over 1,700 families living in the wider Drama region.”