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Greek Americans Mobilize to Help Wild Fire Victims

National Herald, Mark Frangos and Dimitri Soultogiannis, August 30, 2007

NEW YORK – Hellenic organizations from across the United States are trying to find ways to help Greece and the Greek people get through the current crisis, with the World Council For Hellenes Abroad (SAE) and AHEPA leading the way.
“We are extremely sad and moved by the catastrophe in Greece,” SAE U.S. Regional Coordinator Ted G. Spyropoulos told the National Herald. “We hope members of the Greek American community that we have contacted since the first fires in June and July, but especially now, will heed our calls because it will take Greece a long time to recover from this catastrophe.”
SAE is pushing its longstanding “Plant Your Roots in Greece” program, which is dedicated to reforesting areas affected by fire throughout the country. The organization first generally just accepted donations and began replanting forests in small doses, mostly in the Attiki area of Greece, but as the program has evolved, people are now planting trees in memory of loved ones, or as gifts to individuals. Now it has become even more important with this year’s unprecedented number of fires.
“We started this program, in the mid-90’s to help reforest Greece after fires, but there were never this many fires all at once,” Mr. Spyropoulos said. “We have done over 25 reforestations, but there is so much need in the country right now. We have sent more than $250,000 in individual donations, and 100 percent of the money we collect goes to this cause.”

AHEPA is also making efforts to help Greece. The organization is in constant communication with the State Department and the Greek Embassy in Washington, and has initiated a “Care Package Drive” asking its chapters to make a minimum of four boxes consisting of pillows, blankets, sleeping bags, towels, hand soap, diapers, sanitary pads, toothbrushes, children’s clothing, men’s and women’s socks, underwear and shoes. The Red Cross is expected to deliver these packages to Greece over the coming days.
“These packages include necessities people need right now,” said AHEPA Supreme President Ike Gulas, who traveled to Washington earlier this past Tuesday, August 28, to meet with State Department officials and Greek Ambassador to the U.S. Alexandros Mallias.
“We have all witnessed the incredible images of the damaging forest fires that have ravaged southern Greece. We’re in touch with officials at the State Department to help determine what sort of help the United States can provide Greece. I’m traveling to Washington today, so that I can be in constant touch with Government officials in order to get Greece all the help she needs. We’re in touch with Ambassador Mallias and making inquiries with the Greek Government to explore how we can offer our resources to help our brothers and sisters in Greece. We’re also reaching out to domestic agencies to see if we can encourage or help sponsor their participation,” Mr. Gulas told the National Herald.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those families who have lost loved ones or their properties and possessions due to these tragic events. We commend the valiant efforts of the brave forestry service firefighters and Greek soldiers who are battling these catastrophic fires, protecting the citizens; Greece’s rich history; and her antiquities,” he said.
“AHEPA is also very grateful to the various countries – Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland – and to all nations who continue answering Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’ call for international assistance by providing water-dropping aircraft,” Mr. Gulas added.
AHEPA is also calling on all American firefighters who are willing and able to join other firefighters from around the world help put out the fires which have plagued Greece for over two weeks, he said.
“Right now, Greece is in desperate need of firefighters and other fire equipment. At this point, we’re looking for trained firefighters, preferably Greek Americans who can get on location and help with the wildfires. We’re not looking for volunteers. We’re not looking for people who just want to help. We need trained, professional firefighters, and the State Department can help us find them,” he said, adding that those who are guilty of committing arson need to be arrested and convicted for their heinous crimes against the motherland.
“Finally, we hope the individuals responsible for these deplorable acts are apprehended and brought to justice,” he said.
Karen Stamatiades, Grand President of the Daughters of Penelope (AHEPA’s women’s auxiliary organization), also issued a statement expressing sympathy and support for Greece and the Greek people throughout during this time of trial and suffering.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the citizens of the Hellenic Republic who have lost loved ones, or have lost their homes to the devastating fires that have blazed through southern Greece. We offer our concern and empathize with Greece. We also praise the courageous forestry service firefighters and Greek soldiers who are putting their lives on the line to tame and extinguish the fires. We deeply appreciate all the countries that have provided assistance to the Greek Government in this time of great need. We hope that all of their combined efforts will spare further widespread damage and destruction. We share also share AHEPA’s position that those individuals responsible for these immensely destructive fires are brought to justice,” she said, adding that she was trying to reach the Daughters’ district governor in Greece in order to assess how families are affected in the fire-damaged areas.
The U.S.-based humanitarian aid organization, International Orthodox Christian Charities, is also responding to the tragedy, and is planning on providing relief supplies and technical assistance to all those citizens affected by the fires. “As we mourn the loss of life and sympathize with those who have had to flee from their homes, we are mobilizing our emergency response through our IOCC Athens office and coordinating with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America,” said IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou.
“More than 60 people have lost their lives; others remain missing; and Greece’s emergency response capabilities are stretched to their limits,” said IOCC Athens Office Director Despina Katsivelakis. “These fires have devastated large areas of Greece since last Friday (August 24).”
The Hellenic American National Council also released a statement signed by HANC President Emmanuel Velivasakis and General Secretary Paul Kotrotsios, calling on the Greek American community to step up and help those impacted by the fires.
“The picture of Greece in flames; the decimated forests; the burned villages; the unequalled battle with the fires; and the pain and suffering you see smothered on each and every compatriot’s face incite our indescribable grief,” they said. “They cause sheer agony for the tremendous ecological catastrophe and the dire consequences our ancestral homeland and its people. We have to face this crisis together, with questions for the people who orchestrated this unspeakable scheme of arsons. The sheer magnitude of this catastrophe is simply unthinkable. Immediate response to this unprecedented disaster is our national duty. We have a duty to share and contribute, in any manner humanly possible within our means, and with all our strength.”
In order to facilitate the flow of information to Greeks abroad with regard to the catastrophic fires which have been raging in our country for the past few days, the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has set up a call center especially for them.
The phone line (01-30-210-368-1912) was up and running on a 24-hour basis this past Wednesday, August 28, and will serve as a gateway for forwarding any questions, queries or offers to the operationally competent services.
The Greek Embassy in Washington released a statement asking Greek Americans to donate to a “Special Account for the Relief of the Victims of Fire” at the Bank of Greece (SWIFT: BNGRGRAA, IBAN: GR 9801000230000002341103053), to which funds can be transferred in any currency set up by the Greek Finance Ministry.
“During the last few days, Greece has been in the grip of unspeakable tragedy,” Ambassador Mallias said. “Forests of once-exceptional natural beauty have gone up in flames. Entire villages have been ravaged by fire, as we mourn the death of 64 persons.  Our cultural heritage was also threatened, as flames surrounded the archaeological site of ancient Olympia. Our grief and sorrow are profound. Healing the scars of this unprecedented disaster will require our concerted efforts.”
The Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York’s Board of Directors held an emergency meeting at its Stathakion Center headquarters in Astoria this past Tuesday, and opened accounts at the following five banks for people to donate:
1. Atlantic Bank (account #0009081631).
2. Marathon Bank (account #1000029867).
3. Commerce Bank (account #7922703702).
4. BCP Millennium Bank (account #1330002679).
5. First Central Savings Bank (account #0700002140).
Federation officials also convened a special meeting at the Stathakion Center this past Wednesday, August 29, urged “all the presidents and representatives of Hellenic American organizations, members and non-members of the Federation of Hellenic Societies alike, to discuss and decide, all together, how to best coordinate efforts to support our compatriots in Greece.”
The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America also established a special fire relief fund, and is asking Greek Orthodox faithful across the country to send their contributions to the Archdiocese at 8 E. 79th Street, New York, NY 10075-0106 (make checks payable to “Greek Fire Relief Fund”). To contribute online, please visit the web at http://www.goarch.org to make a donation by credit card.

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