The Christmas season has come again. In home and communities through the country, Christmas traditions are rekindled; a reflection of the themes of the season. The same holds true for the Greek-American community of the Delaware Valley; in addition to church pageant plays, Greek carols from the many societies and Greek schools, and Christmas galas and events, traditions of goodwill and selflessness are not forgotten.

By Philip Voutsakis

“As a society, we tend to overlook the fact that we can go into our refrigerators at any time and decide what we want and don’t want to eat at any particular time. It’s really a luxury that, unfortunately, many individuals don’t have” said Gina Pilidis. She and fifteen members of the newly formed Young Adult League (YAL) prepared and served food to 145 homeless individuals on November 22nd at the Life Center shelter at 63rd and Market Streets in Upper Darby. The shelter, which sleeps up to 50 people, is open to the public to anyone who is in need of food. According to the center’s website, the meal program served over 79,000 meals with 11,114 volunteer hours last year.

The YAL group which prepared and offered the food to those in need included young Orthodox parishioners from the churches in the Delaware Valley as well as local college students. Rather than buying pre-made food, the group cooked the entire meal from scratch, with a menu that included oregano chicken riganato, lemon-potatoes, garlic bread, as well as baked cookies and brownies. “When we cook for our families, we cook with love. We tried to emulate that in cooking for the people in the shelter. We prepared everything from basic ingredients in the kitchen at St. Luke Greek Orthodox Church; after we were done the cooking that Sunday evening, the hall smelled like one of our homes at dinner time” Pilidis said. In addition to the meal, the members of the group also wrote cards, with messages of love and encouragement for those living in the shelter. Vanessa Constantinides, another organizer, said: “Through this event, we tried to ‘pay our blessings forward’ during this Christmas season and remind the people who we met that they are still cared for.”

At a different parish in Delaware County, a group of young Greek Orthodox Christians practices singing “Jingle Bells” together. The members of the St. George Greek Church’s three youth groups; GOYA, JOY, and HOPE (a group ranging from kindergarteners to seniors in high school), are preparing to visit White Horse Village in Newtown Square, a retirement community near the church that caters to all demographics, but has a special focus on low-income residents. “Our church’s youth groups have been organizing this as long as I can remember,” said Eleni Christou, GOYA corresponding secretary. “It’s a really great event; the residents at White Horse Village seem to truly appreciate it, and we enjoy spreading Christmas cheer as well. By the end of the event, a lot of the residents join in on the carols. It’s a tradition we look forward to every year.” This event is one of the many Christmas Season Charity events that the St. George GOYA conducts, in addition to coat drive and wreath sale.

Another Greek-American civic organization, the Pan-Macedonian Society of Philadelphia has a long history of philanthropic endeavors; “Charity is a central part of the Pan-Macedonian Society and has been since its inception when we used to provide assistance for newly arrived Greeks to the Philadelphia area,” said Costa Mitoulis, President of the Pavlos Melas Men’s Chapter. “During the holiday season, our organization donates $10,000 around the holidays to the needy and other philanthropic organizations. Half of this is provided by an anonymous donor who, for the past few decades, has sent the President of the Pan-Macedonian Society a donation to be distributed to needy families at area churches.”

Per the donor’s instruction, one of the President’s responsibilities is to reach out to local parish priests and inquire if there are any families in need at the respective parish (these families remain unnamed throughout the process.) If families in need are identified by the priest, the organization buys gift certificates to grocery stores or big-box stores in order to assist the parents in need to purchase Christmas presents for their children. In addition to this, the Society donates at least $5,000 annually to charities such as The St. Basil’s Academy, Project Hope for Greece, and various other non-Hellenic related philanthropic organizations.

Clearly, the Christmas Spirit is alive and well among the Greek American community of Philadelphia.