The Food Column: The Polamalus focus on good cause

By Rebecca Sodergren, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

polamalufamily_160

Theodora Polamalu will make a rare public appearance at a Jan. 25 dinner to raise funds for an Orthodox Christian charity.

A silent auction that night also will feature items signed by her Steeler husband, Troy, including adult and children’s jerseys, a throwback jersey and a hat.

The Polamalus, Orthodox Christians themselves, want to bring a branch of FOCUS North America, the primary Orthodox outreach organization, to Pittsburgh. The dinner will help to finance the Pittsburgh center’s planned opening on Orthodox Easter, April 24, 2011.

Thea Martin, president of the Ladies Philoptochos Society of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Mt. Lebanon, notes that the Pittsburgh center is in the process of securing a building. The center will focus on serving the working poor and will begin by feeding the hungry. As the center grows, it may move into other avenues of outreach, such as shelter or medical care, Mrs. Martin said.

Mrs. Martin hadn’t heard of FOCUS until she attended a church convention in Atlanta. She stopped by to visit the FOCUS booth, discovered that Mrs. Polamalu is on the national FOCUS board, and began hatching a plan to ask Mrs. Polamalu to speak to her 150-member women’s group.

What resulted was an event much larger than a speech for 150.

The Jan. 25 dinner at Holy Cross will include silent auction items from hotels, restaurants and other businesses in addition to the Polamalu memorabilia. The Greek dinner, at $50 per person, will include appetizers (feta, olives, hummus and pita), Kotopeta Avgholemono (chicken rolls), rice pilaf, green beans almondine and dessert (baklava and galatobouriko, a Greek custard in phyllo).

Mrs. Polamalu will speak on “Restoring Living Icons,” or reaching out to serve other people just as Orthodox Christians might reach out to the saints depicted in their icons.

“FOCUS is a ministry that Troy and I are excited to be involved with since its mission to serve the poor is one that resonates deep within our philanthropy,” Mrs. Polamalu said in a statement. “We chose to get involved with the ministry because as Orthodox Christians we are called to exemplify the commandments of Christ to care for our fellow man in need.”

FOCUS, which started just last year, has seven other centers scattered across the country in cities such as Minneapolis, Orlando and San Diego. The name stands alternately for “Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve” or for “Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding and Shelter.” The organization is Pan-Orthodox, meaning it is a cooperative effort of all Orthodox sects: Greek, Russian, Syrian and so on.

For the Jan. 25 dinner, RSVP by Jan. 10 to Vasso Paliouras at 412-563-3577 or JavaScript required to view address.

For more information on FOCUS North America and to order tickets online, visit focusna.org (scroll down the home page to see information on the Pittsburgh-Polamalu event).

FOCUS St. Louis Gives Christmas Presents to Those in Need

DSCN5587Earlier this year, George’s house burned down. While his wife and three kids now share a two-bedroom house with another family, George chooses to stay at a shelter to provide more room for his family and so he doesn’t burden their hosts. Working odd jobs helps pay for some of his families needs, but it isn’t enough to move them into their own apartment.

He likes going to the Sunday night meals at FOCUS Gateway City (St. Louis, MO) because, “people actually sit down and talk to me,” he says. FOCUS Gateway City serves all its meals “family style” so the volunteers sit with guests and everyone is served from the same bowl at the table. For volunteers it may seem like a small thing, but to people like George it provides a sense of “family” when one may be scarce.

Last Sunday’s Christmas party and dinner was no different. Families, single men and women, homeless individuals and those who work but still cannot pay for enough food to get them through the week … All sat together and enjoyed a hot meal, Christmas carols, and even presents. And George’s family was there too!

All Saints of North America Antiochian Church and Assumption Greek Orthodox Church’s Philoptochos chapter collected Christmas gifts for the children and adults attending the party. Together they collected over 100 presents!

Volunteers from All Saints and St. Basil Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia served food, sat and fellowshipped with guests, led partygoers in Christmas carols and handed out the gifts. In addition to the many toys, books and other children’s gifts, adults received scarves, blankets and gloves.

A group of three men were particularly happy about getting blankets, said FOCUS Gateway City Director Eric Shanburn. “These three guys are regulars,” explained Shanburn. “They don’t like to stay at the shelters because their stuff gets taken, there are too many fights, and it doesn’t ever seem to work out well for them.”

Shanburn said that a couple weeks ago when the temperature was in the teens, the guys told him they almost had all four walls completed on their makeshift shack. “They needed blankets and we didn’t have any,” Shanburn said. “They didn’t even have any hats on.”

Well at Sunday’s Christmas party and dinner, the three men got some blankets and hats to help keep them warm as they continue to struggle with life on the street. Additionally, Shanburn and local FOCUS Gateway City volunteers are working with these any many others to find safe housing and life-recovery.

Shanburn said he was most impressed by a six-year-old boy named Isaiah. “I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and had been sending cookies home with neighbors to give to him,” he said. Isaiah lives near the church where FOCUS Gateway City serves meals and Shanburn said the boy had been looking forward to his Christmas gift for three months.

Isaiah showed up late and announced to Shanburn, “I’m here! Do you have a Christmas gift for me?” Shanburn gave him his gift and Isaiah was so grateful for his one new thing. “So may of the kids and families were interested in having more and Isaiah was content with his one thing and never asked for anything else.”

gallery/FOCUS-GC

FOCUS Board of Directors Meets in Minneapolis

[Kansas City, MO] The Board of Directors of FOCUS North America convened their fall meeting in Minneapolis, MN at the new FOCUS Minnesota ministry center. In attendance were 5 standing members of the national board which include: Chairman Mr. Charles Ajalat, Vice Chairman Mr. William Hoeft, Secretary Dr. Julie Papatheofanis, Mrs. Lory Barsdate Easton, Mr. Brian Gerich, Fr. Tom Avramis and Ms. Georgia Kazakis. FOCUS Executive Director, Fr. Justin Mathews, and local and national staff were present as well. The Board of Directors was especially pleased to welcome Mr. Wendell Maddox and Dr. Nick Pandelides, its two newest members of the Board of Directors, to their first meeting.

The Board took note with satisfaction, the 2009-10 performances of the various FOCUS ministry centers throughout the US established in the past year for having accomplished most of the planned activities within limited budgets. A highlight of this meeting was the ability to connect for free to the various FOCUS centers of operation nationally via Skype. Each FOCUS center was able to be present at the meeting to report back on ministry activities in their own area and to engage in a lively Q&A with board members. In only the last five months it was noted that over 500 Orthodox Christian volunteers from all jurisdictions volunteered literally thousands of hours with FOCUS NA to help provide food and care for their needy neighbors through the six new FOCUS Centers.

Attendees of this meeting also had the opportunity to work closely alongside the local Advisory Council and volunteers of FOCUS Minnesota to serve a meal to the hungry on Friday night. Nearly 90 meals were provided to those in need served by 42 volunteers representing 9 Orthodox parishes. As a result of a shoe drive in the local parishes, free shoes and boots were also handed out to the guests as they left.

In addition to serving the poor by establishing operational FOCUS centers and supplying parishes with needed resources, especially through the YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) Program that grew tremendously in 2010, a key part of the mission of FOCUS North America is to support existing Orthodox ministries facilitating or working directly with those most in need. Grants were awarded to new FOCUS Partner Ministries including St. George Food Pantry (OCA, TX), St. Michael’s Community Meal (Romanian, MA), Open Door Meal Ministry and St. Brigid’s Pantry (Bulgarian, MA), St. Gregory of Nyssa hot lunch program (OCA, OH). In all FOCUS North America donors helped distribute over $50,000 in partner ministry grants in 2010.

“In our challenging work to bring help and hope to our brothers and sisters in need here at home our National Board provide strong Christian vision and direction, and an example of philanthropic love that undergirds our work and our ability to serve Christ through love for our neighbors,” said Fr. Justin Mathews, Executive Director.

FOCUS Orange County Provides Food and Hope for Working Poor

focus-OC-groupWhile some families are trying to decide between a visit to Grandma’s on Christmas, or how much turkey to cook for their guests, others are trying to make the difficult decision between shelter or food this holiday season.

November marked the beginning of FOCUS Orange County’s weekly ministry to the area’s working poor. Sunday nights at the Valencia Inn an average of 35 FOCUS Orange County volunteers serve over 100 hot meals and give away free clothing to working poor families living in area motels.

Motel owners know that many families will be moving off the streets during this holiday time to try and provide the gift of a warm bed and running water for their families. In order to afford the motel room, many will sacrifice money they would have spent on food. In an effort to make sure these families do not have to choose between shelter and food, FOCUS Orange County is partnering with area Orthodox churches to collect food to stock the El Dorado motel’s food pantry, which also services those living at the Valencia motel.

charles-meal

In the month of November, FOCUS Orange county also partnered with the City of Anaheim to provide food for people attending the city’s vaccine drive for the working poor. Through the generosity of St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church’s Philoptochos chapter, food and supplies were purchased for the event. Volunteers from St. Mark Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. John the Theologian Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church, St. Marina Coptic Orthodox Church and St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church helped with the event and served 100

hot dogs and 150 hamburgers to families who were waiting for their vaccinations. FOCUS volunteers also ran a kid’s fishing game booth at the event.

Through the prayers and financial support of faithful people, FOCUS Orange County continues to work hard to assist the working poor in its area.