9 Decades of Service to Humanity
The Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, Inc. is the separately incorporated philanthropic arm of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the only women’s organization recognized in the Uniform Parish Regulations, and a non-governmental organization registered with the United Nations. Our purpose is reflected in our Mission Statement.
The endeavors of the Society are a genuine expression of philanthropia, reflecting an enormous manifestation of love. This agape is evident not only in the millions of dollars of charity disbursed annually to our ministries, commitments, and special projects but also in the multitude of meaningful programs and activities, which have been undertaken over nearly 90 years.
St. James in his Epistle, Chapter 1, Verse 22, exhorts all Christians to be, “Doers of the Word.” Members of Philoptochos are indeed doers, and their accomplishments can be found in the annals of more than 400 Philoptochos chapters across the United States.
1800s – The Beginnings
The very beginnings of Philoptochos can be traced to the late 1800s when hundreds of immigrants were arriving daily in the United States from Greece, Asia Minor, and Constantinople. At that time, women’s clubs formed in churches in major cities across the US to tackle the formidable task of welcoming the new immigrants and assisting them in acclimating to their new environment. These clubs continued in various forms until the first part of the 20th century.
Philoptochos was officially founded and organized in its current form in 1931 by then Archbishop, and later, Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. From its inception, Archbishop Athenagoras charged Philoptochos not only with assisting the needy in their communities, but also with planning family events with music, educational lectures, and performances.
The vasilopites, which were baked to celebrate the name day of St. Basil, were auctioned off to raise funds to care for the orphans of the community. Education was another priority of the Archbishop, and he asked the chapters to support Holy Cross Theological School, which was founded in 1937. All of these programs, which the Archbishop promoted in the 1930s, inspire the programs of Philoptochos to this day.
Established in the midst of a historic depression, Philoptochos responded vigorously to the needs of its community. Over the decades, Philoptochos chapters have continued to respond wherever the need arises — within their local communities, the community at large, and throughout the world.
1930s – The Heart of Philoptochos
Philoptochos’ service in the 1930s is best illustrated by a story told by a woman whom we met at a convention. When asked whether she still was an active Philoptochos member, she replied:
In the early 1930’s, my family lived on Fort Hamilton Parkway, in Brooklyn, New York. Just before Christmas, my husband became ill and was hospitalized. As the holiday approached, I knew that I would not be able to provide my children with gifts or even with a meal to celebrate the birth of our Savior.
On Christmas Eve, I was alone with my children when there was a knock at the door. When I opened the door, I was greeted by a group of three women from Sts. Constantine and Helen who introduced themselves as Philoptochos members. They brought bags full of groceries and gifts for the children.
More than sixty years later, this frail and very distinguished lady explained that until the day she died, she would support Philoptochos with all her heart.
That was Philoptochos in the 1930’s.
1940s – WWII Aid and a Landmark Purchase
In October 1940, Prime Minister of Greece John Metaxas’ dramatic “OXI” in response to Italy’s request to surrender resounded around the world, and the Philoptochos Society mobilized to lend assistance. Philoptochos undertook the enormous task of aiding the courageous Greek people who were starving and suffering untold hardships. Hundreds of thousands of packages were shipped to Greece containing food, clothing, medicine, blankets and hospital equipment, along with an ambulance bearing the name of Philoptochos. With the entry of the US in the war, the ladies of Philoptochos devoted long hours to selling War Bonds and extended hospitality in their homes to American soldiers on leave, prompting the American government to praise Philoptochos for its efforts.
In a world divided by war and inhumanity unsurpassed to this day, Philoptochos embarked on what would become the project closest to our heart. In 1944, once again inspired by Archbishop Athenagoras, Philoptochos purchased the former Rupert Estate on the cliffs of the Hudson. The estate, renamed Saint Basil’s Academy, became a haven for children from war-torn Greece. Later, it became the site of a respected Teachers College, and today, it is still a home away from home for children in need. The annual Vasilopita commitment provides funds for the upkeep of the Academy.
In 1949, Archbishop Michael succeeded Archbishop Athenagoras as Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. Under his guidance, Philoptochos continued its mission of humanitarian service at home and abroad and also assisted Archbishop Michael in establishing the Greek Orthodox Youth of America, GOYA, continuing their interest in children. In addition, Philoptochos participated in a campaign to place the initials “G.O.” on dog tags to identify Greek Orthodox members of the armed forces.
That was Philoptochos in the 1940s.
1950s – Assisting Those In Need
When a devastating earthquake shook the Ionian Islands in 1953, Philoptochos once again rallied its chapters to offer assistance, sending food, clothing, medicine, and financial support to the stricken inhabitants.
In 1956, a new plateau was reached when, for the first time, the National Philoptochos Conference was convened simultaneously with the Archdiocesan Clergy-Laity Congress in Washington, DC.
When Archbishop Michael founded a home for senior citizens in Yonkers, NY in 1958, the Society hosted many fund-raising events to furnish the rooms of the Home.
That was Philoptochos in the 1950s.
1960s – Expanding Our Commitments
In the 1960s, Philoptochos rejected Timothy Leary’s admonition to, “Turn On and Tune Out,” and instead, joined the Beatles’ proclamation that, “All You Need Is Love.” During that tempestuous decade, while Archbishop Iakovos marched side by side with Martin Luther King, Jr. for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, Philoptochos discovered the strength of combined spirit.
Archbishop Iakovos encouraged the Philoptochos to review and expand its humanitarian programs.
- The “Sisterhood of St. Basil’s Academy” was formed with the goal of offering substantial financial support for the institution. Funds were raised to build and furnish 3 new dormitories at the Academy.
- A Foster Parent Plan for poor children in Greece raised $107,000 in ten years.
- In 1963, an annual fund was established to collect funds for the Ecumenical Patriarchate on the Feast Day of Saints Cosmas and Damianos, Patron Saints of the Philoptochos.
- When Archbishop Iakovos established the Archdiocese Social, Health and Welfare Center, Philoptochos began to raise and disburse funds to assist the needy throughout the country. A year later, a social worker was named Director of Social Services, and this was the beginning of the National Philoptochos Department of Social Services.
That was Philoptochos in the 1960s.
1970s – Memories of Athenagoras
The Philoptochos Society began the 1970s with new vigor, as its membership increased and new national and ecumenical humanitarian and educational programs were undertaken.
When Patriarch Athenagoras, the founder of Philoptochos, died suddenly, Philoptochos established a scholarship at the Holy Cross School of Theology in his name. In addition, many donations were made in his memory across the US and in Greece. This was the beginning of a scholarship program for the students of Hellenic College and Holy Cross School of Theology that exists to this day.
A new Cardiac Program for Greek children was established, and thousands of dollars were raised annually to help Greek children with heart ailments.
In July 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus and 250,000 refugees fled their homes, Philoptochos launched a 6-point program to help:
- Hundreds of thousands of pounds of food, clothing, blankets and drugs were shipped to Cyprus.
- Every chapter across the US conducted blood drives to help the wounded.
- Protest letters were sent to President Ford, Secretary of State Kissinger, and Congress.
- Donations for the Archdiocese Cyprus Relief Fund were collected.
- A national canister drive was undertaken in every major city in the US and Canada.
- A Foster Parent Program, “Caress,” was begun to help the displaced children of Cyprus, and Philoptochos accepted responsibility for helping the children who were homeless.
Cypriot children visit US to thank Philoptochos for its support
Subsequently, Archbishop Iakovos announced that, for the first time, he would appoint women to the Archdiocesan Council.
At this time, Philoptochos also established St. Photios Shrine as a national commitment. The Shrine had been established in 1965 and was dedicated to the first Greek settlers who arrived in the New World.
When the Archdiocese reorganized with a new Charter at the Detroit conference in 1978, Philoptochos also reorganized its structure with a new Constitution and By-laws, establishing the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, Inc. At that time, a historic plateau was announced: an estimated $1,000,000 had been disbursed to worthy causes between 1976-1978.
On the occasion of Archbishop Iakovos’ 20th anniversary in 1979, Philoptochos announced a $500,000 project at St. Basil Academy, the building of The Archbishop Iakovos Athletic Center, for which the Daughters of Penelope also pledged the funds to build the swimming pool.
That was Philoptochos in the 1970s.
1980s – Addressing Social Issues
The new decade witnessed a coming of age for Philoptochos. Philoptochos transcended the confines of the Greek Community to embrace the entire world, evolving from a parochial philanthropic organization established to assist the early Greek immigrants, to a relevant, philanthropic organization involved with national and international concerns.
Turning against the “Me Generation” tide of the 1980s, Philoptochos expanded its horizons to address pressing social and moral issues, presenting position papers on:
- Child Abuse
- Sex Education
- Ordination of Women
- Battered Women
- Church and Family
- Using alcohol on Church premises
In addition, Philoptochos sponsored a combined forum on AIDS at a Clergy Laity Congress, bringing medical and psychiatric experts together with religious leaders to discuss the broad spectrum of issues involved in the AIDS crisis.
At the same time, Philoptochos expanded its support for a variety of causes, including Cooley’s Anemia, the Heart Fund, Arthritis and Cancer Foundations, American Red Cross, American Foundation for the Blind, Cambodian Refugee Fund, Easter Seals Telethon, and Cerebral Palsy drives.
That was Philoptochos in the 1980s.
1990s – Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon
The 1990s witnessed the evolution of the Cancer Fund luncheon into the Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon, which still exists today as a biennial fundraising event of the Philoptochos Society.
The Cancer Fund Luncheon was first held in 1989 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City with over 700 guests in attendance. At that time, many children came to Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City from Greece for cancer treatment. A second equally successful luncheon followed in 1990 after which time it was decided that the event should be held throughout the United States to benefit programs in other parts of the country.
Thus, in 1991, it was renamed the Children’s Medical Fund Luncheon, and it became a biennial event hosted on a rotating basis in the nine dioceses across the country. Since its inception, the Children’s Medical Fund has raised nearly $4 million dollars for children’s hospitals and research programs, as well as special programs that serve the needs of ill and fragile children, along with assistance to individuals and their families throughout the United States and in other parts of the world.
At the end of the decade, Philoptochos took two significant steps to increase the security and transparency of its finances and its social service protocol. The Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, Inc. Guidelines were established to outline all financial procedures and transactions; the Social Service Guidelines were also established to ensure that all requests for support were reviewed by the two Social Service Chairs, the Treasurers, the bookkeeper, and the President. These two sets of guidelines have been reviewed and updated throughout the years and serve as a model for ethical, secure, and transparent policies.
That was Philoptochos in the 1990s.
2000s – Expanding Our Philanthropy
At the dawn of the new century, Philoptochos established a goal to extend its outreach even further by incorporating new programs with a global reach to serve humankind with greater and broader scope.
In keeping with this goal, Philoptochos formed a partnership with International Orthodox Christian Charities to build two children’s medical clinics in Africa, one in Woliso, Ethiopia, and another in Parktown, Zimbabwe. In addition, Chapters participated in an AIDS walk-a-thon to raise funds to support Orthodox children in Ethiopia who had been orphaned due to AIDS.
The Wheelchair Project also provided international aid. Two containers, each with 280 wheelchairs, were delivered to people in the Republic of Georgia and in Thessaloniki, Greece, restoring mobility to handicapped residents. In addition, Philoptochos funds provided vocational training for the 560 individuals who received these wheelchairs. Philoptochos also provided additional funding for transportation from the US to Zimbabwe of pediatric wheelchairs, mobility devices, and other durable medical equipment for over 200 children. The Wheelchair Project provided the gift of mobility, restoring dignity, hope and quality of life to the recipients.
An unprecedented need for emergency relief at the beginning of the century resulted in the establishment of the National Philoptochos Emergency Fund, which enabled Philoptochos to provide immediate response and assistance following national and international disasters. Because of the Emergency Fund, Philoptochos was a first responder on the ground in Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina, providing safe drinking water to displaced residents of New Orleans. Immediate support was also provided for victims of the Florida hurricanes, Asian earthquake and tsunami, Greek fires, California fires and mudslides, and Iowa floods.
Another new fund established at this time was the 75th Anniversary Founders Fund. This fund honored the founders of Philoptochos on its 75th anniversary. It was established to fund programming and provide support for senior citizens.
Of course, even as Philoptochos expanded the scope of its good works internationally, it continued its dedicated, heartfelt support of its Archdiocesan ministries and commitments.
At the end of the decade, Philoptochos was presented with a new challenge. Because of expanding needs at the Archdiocesan Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manhattan, Philoptochos was asked to vacate its offices, where it had operated since 1990. Finding a new home for its operations was critical for Philoptochos. Philoptochos signed a two-year lease for temporary office space at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in NYC.
That was Philoptochos in the first decade of the 21st century.
2010s – Philoptochos Today
After investigating options for its future, the National Philoptochos Board decided that the most prudent long-term solution would be to purchase a permanent home, the Philoptochos Center of Philanthropy. This decision was resoundingly supported at the 2010 Biennial National Convention in Atlanta, GA. A search to find an appropriate building and a fund raising campaign began immediately. In November 2012, Philoptochos purchased a brownstone in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan for $3 million. Philoptochos had raised $2.1 million in cash and took out a short-term mortgage for the balance of $900,000. Within 18 months, the mortgage was paid off and an additional $100,000 was deposited in an Evergreen Fund for emergencies.
Notwithstanding the incredibly successful fundraising campaign that Philoptochos waged for the Philoptochos Center of Philanthropy, Philoptochos once again harnessed the power of its 400+ chapters to support the campaign to build Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and National Shrine at the World Trade Center, raising over $1.5 million. St. Nicholas will forever stand as a place of healing for the nation following the destruction of the terrorist attack on 9/11. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, St. Nicholas is a testament to the restorative power of goodness. As it says in Isaiah 61:3, “Glory instead of ashes.”
Philoptochos continued its philanthropic programming concurrently with fundraising. During the second decade of the century, Philoptochos pursued a Return to Basics. In addition to the remarkable fundraising machine it had become, raising funds to purchase the Center of Philanthropy and for St. Nicholas Church and Shrine, and annually raising between one and two million dollars for its national and international ministries, commitments and projects, Philoptochos sought to more fully engage its members in hands-on philanthropic work. Accordingly, it established the following initiatives:
Chapters worked cooperatively with the youth in their parishes to provide good deeds in their communities.
- One Warm Coat
Chapters collected warm coats for the homeless during the winter months.
- Assistance for Our Veterans
Chapters designed projects to provide housing and supplies to veterans and planned celebrations to honor them.
- Feed the Hungry Program
Chapters across the nation provided over 2.1 million meals in a 5-year period.
- Operation Classroom
Chapters adopted an underserved school in their local community and provided school supplies, clothing, personal hygiene projects, and weekend food.
In addition, National Philoptochos developed educational initiatives — programs on topical issues of concern to its communities. Philoptochos chapters then worked together with their parish organizations to present the programs to their communities. Topics included:
- Stop Bullying In Your Community
- Be Safe, Be Smart – Investigating Technology Safety in the Computer Age
- Alzheimer’s Disease: Awareness, Understanding, and Care
- Women’s Health
- Opioid Addiction
The expansion of Philoptochos’ programs over the decades caused Archbishop Demetrios to observe: “You have surpassed your original philanthropic mission. You are not only philoptochos,” he said, “but also philotheos, philadelphos, philanthropos, and philoxenos.” — Not only Friends of the Needy, but also Friends of God, Friends of Neighbors, Friends of Humanity, and Friends of Strangers. It is this expanded vision of Philoptochos that will take us beyond our 100th anniversary, ensuring our existence and relevance to our members and our parish communities.