President Stella Wacker – Stella.Wacker@gmail.com
In the early days of the founding of our beloved St. Demetrios Church, there was a small group of women who already were dedicated to the ideals of philanthropic and humanitarian efforts. At the time these efforts were not nation or world wide as they are today, their work was mainly concentrated in maintaining the new little church which was acquired in 1923, and in assisting families newly arrived from Greece.
There are many of us, now adults, in the community who can recall these remarkable women. They were ladies who spent hours in the church cleaning and polishing, sewing, embroidering, washing and ironing the church linens which they themselves had donated. This small group of women cooked and delivered meals to the new arrivals until they were established. They offered encouragement to their husbands and to all involved to continue efforts to raise and donate money in order for St. Demetrius Church to progress and grow.
These efforts were not only occurring in Perth Amboy, but in every Greek community throughout the United States…and so a dream began to form in the brilliant mind of the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I. He was then serving as Archbishop of North and South America. As he traveled about the country, he continually met groups of dedicated women. Gradually the idea was born, something new and unprecedented. In November 1931, he established an organization and gave it the name «PHILOPTOCHOS,» meaning «friend of the poor.»
In our particular community, the work continued and as the parish grew, more women joined and by 1935 they officially became members of the national organization. Mrs. Georgia Campos became the first president. By this time, these ladies were involved in many activities to raise money, not only to help those in need, but to help maintain the church. Their creativity knew no bounds. Directed by Mrs. Sophia Polites, plays were written, costumes were created, dances were organized to celebrate St. Demetrios Feast Day, Greek Independence Day and Vasilopita celebrations. Raffle and dance tickets were sold door to door. Mrs. Aphrodite Botsolas and her committee were known to put their babies in carriages and visit Greek families to collect funds to purchase flowers for the adornment of the Epitaphios and floral arrangements for Easter Services. Mrs. Millie Doukas and Mrs. Athena Mezines while selling tickets to various business in Perth Amboy, decided to take the awesome and venturesome step in entering a Greek men’s club or «Kafenio.» (The report is that they were treated in an unforgettable royal manner.) Mr. James Doukas offered his services as chauffer and would drive the ladies to Staten Island to visit Greek families and to raise funds for special projects.
Another group which came into their realm of care was the Greek School. Mrs. Mary Patras was always available to distribute Christmas candy, chocolate bunnies and ice cream treats for holidays in a loving, charming and generous fashion to all the children.
During World War II, their efforts began to stretch out to the community at large and they volunteered their services to the American Red Cross, rolling bandages and preparing items for our Armed Forces.
It was not, however, all work and no play. Many picnics were held on the beaches of Staten Island where the ladies relaxed and enjoyed one another’s company. These associations through philanthropic endeavors and companionships led to bonding and lifelong friendships.
By 1950-52, it became apparent that the Greek community outgrew the original church and the endeavors of the Philoptochos turned to raising funds for the construction and adornment of a new edifice.
During this time and up to the present, the National Philoptochos Society has been growing to monumental proportions. And along with them, our own Society has kept pace with this growth. From a group of five to ten women, we now proudly number over one hundred women, each devoted to the ideals of Philoptochos. Currently, the National Philoptochos is the second largest women’s philanthropic, organization in the United States with over 500 chapters.
The Three Hierarchs Chapter of St. Demetrios Church has continued to meet the challenge of this growth in every way possible. We are a chapter that is well known for meeting every obligation—whether it be spiritual, philanthropic or humanitarian, nationally or locally. The accomplishments of this group are many and far-reaching.
Today our chapter is dedicated to raising funds for national projects, such as St. Basil’s Academy, Hellenic College/Holy Cross School of Theology, Archdiocesan Missions, Philanthropies of the Patriarchate, United Nations, Children’s Special Charities, including Heart, Kidney and Cancer programs, aging and homelessness, and many more. In our local area, we offer support to several organizations, including the American Red Cross, Deborah Hospital, Raritan Bay Medical Center, First Aid Squad, Salvation Army and other individuals who are in need. There are many more, too numerous to mention here.
We have been blessed in that the distinguished leadership of ALL our past presidents has been outstanding. Through them, these dedicated and valiant churchwomen, along with their members, have accomplished so much. Their goals and aspirations continue to inspire us, and as we go forward into the twenty-first century, there is no doubt our future accomplishments will be great and will reach every corner of the world.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” Colossians 3:23