ATHENS – COVID-19 came out of the blue, disrupting our lives, businesses, everything – including the government and private sector services that help people in need during crises. In Greece, the state stepped up and private institutions stepped in, including The Ladies Union of Drama – Open Hospitality House.
When the soup kitchens of the Church of Greece had to shut down when the pandemic hit, the Ladies Union took action to help feed families throughout the Prefecture of Drama in northeast Greece.
The Ladies Union 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 people, mainly women, who are 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, “which will allow the Ladies Union to donate over 5,500 kg of food, otherwise wasted, to over 1,700 families living in the wider Drama region,” said Michael Printzos, THI’s Program Director.
The timing of both actions could not have been better and the women have already risen to the COVID-19 challenge.
“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.
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. 70% 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.
Xrisa, 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.”
Tsiamoura, who welcomes Diaspora support, 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.”