“I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed Me; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me...”
Matthew 25: 35-36
Surely, these words must have been the inspiration to a small group of remarkable, dedicated women who united to become what is now known as the “Philanthropic Arm of the Church.” They were wives, and they were mothers – and in many cases worked side by side with their husbands to establish new business ventures in strange cities, in a new country, many times not speaking the English language. For them, the Church was not only a place of worship – but also a social, emotional, spiritual and cultural anchor, where they found support from others, who shared the common bond of love for their Orthodox faith and its teachings.
In 1926, eight Greek ladies in Asbury Park gathered informally in their homes for the purpose of supporting Greek families by ministering to their needs. This little group was formalized in 1928 by Olga Kallimachos, a summer resident of Ocean Grove, into “Penelope ~ Pistos Silogos.” The name was chosen as Penelope, the legendary heroine and wife of Odysseus, who exemplified steadfastness and virtue. By 1930, the group had grown and included the majority of women in the Greek community, and the ladies published their constitution, officially naming the organization “Greek Ladies Society ~ ‘Penelope’ of Asbury Park, New Jersey, a Philanthropic and Educational Society.” Its purpose was to assist needy Greek families and to support the aim in establishing and preserving their ethnic basis in the community.
In 1939, the Penelope Society, now known today as Saint George Philoptochos – Chapter 1021, was officially granted a charter to become part of THE GREEK ORTHODOX LADIES PHILOPTOCHOS SOCIETY, INC., one of the largest Christian women’s charitable organizations in America. When Reverend Spyridon Coutros assumed his duties as priest of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in 1947, the Penelope Society officially changed its name to the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society ~ Penelope. The organization continues to this day to aid and relieve the poor, the destitute, the aged, the sick, the unemployed, the orphaned, the imprisoned, the widowed, the handicapped, the troubled and to aid all others who may need the help of the Church.
Throughout its history, Philoptochos has been a steadfast presence in Saint George Greek Orthodox Church, supporting every facet of church life. The ladies have sewn robes for the altar boys; baked Prosphoro for Divine Liturgy, Artos for Artoklasia services and Vasilopita for the Feast of St. Basil; decorated the sanctuary for Christmas and Pascha; dyed red eggs for Pascha; hosted receptions for St. George Day and Hierarchal visitations and organized the first church festivals.
As we move forward in the 21st Century, we hope our ideals will be embraced by a new generation of ladies who join us to reach the goals outlined years ago by a small group of ladies whose vision, generosity, love and compassion spurred them on to accomplish what they never thought possible.
A WORD ABOUT THE GREEK LADIES PHILOPTOCHOS SOCIETY, INC.
The Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, Inc., a National organization known as the philanthropic heart of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, has for over seventy – five years undertaken a multitude of philanthropic programs to aid the poor, the sick and the elderly. The Society was established in November, 1931, by the late Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras I, who was then serving as Archbishop of North and South America. The structure of Philoptochos includes the National Board, Metropolis Boards and Chapters in the parishes of the Archdiocese. There are approximately 485 Philoptochos Chapters throughout the United States.
Since the late 1950's, upon the recommendation of His Eminence Archbishop Iakovos of blessed memory, Philoptochos has placed an increased emphasis on the implementation of important programs to benefit the Greek Orthodox community, including, but not limited to, institutions of the Church, the philanthropies of the Ecumenical Patriarchate and assistance to Greeks and Greek Orthodox families. Involvement in social and moral issues encouraged the establishment of several committees to address topics such as child abuse prevention, autism research and awareness, domestic violence, homelessness, pornography, drug and alcohol abuse, and aging.
Since 1987, the National Philoptochos office has employed a professional Social Worker, engaged in assisting the Greek Orthodox community in the United States as well as Greek and Cypriot nationals. The Department of Social Services is a very important, vital element of our organization. The mission of the Department is to improve the quality of life of those in need, in a way that maintains the dignity and self-respect of the individuals. Through confidential and professional services, the office provides outreach, education, information, support, intervention, motivation, advocacy, financial assistance and referral to local and broader resources. The website of the department of Social Services can be accessed here: http://philoptochos.org/programs/socialservices/.