A team of a dozen U.S.-based volunteers gave up their summer holidays this year to spend three weeks in Athens, saving thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables, serving vulnerable people, cleaning beaches and planting hundreds of trees.
The volunteers were part of the New York City-based Greek America Foundation’s Greek America Corps program, which sends young people from the United States and Canada to volunteer in Greece alongside established partner organizations conducting critical humanitarian relief and environmental projects.
Projects included working alongside Boroume, a charitable organization that gathers unsold food from farmers markets that will otherwise be thrown away. During their three-week program, the volunteers gathered thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables and distributed them to various soup kitchens throughout the city operated by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Athens.
They even visited a farm in Marathon, outside Athens, where left-over crops that would normally have been left to rot in the fields were salvaged and turned into meals for food-challenged communities. The activity is called “gleaning” and resulted in hundreds of meals for disenfranchised people.
The volunteers also spent most of their afternoons alongside young children from the refugee community, many unaccompanied minors who have arrived in Greece alone and are living in shelters. Volunteers took part in drawing sessions, musical and dance activities and other projects aiming to normalize the youngsters’ experiences in Greece.
Similar to an urban summer camp, the activities were led by the Greek Council for Refugees, an organization that provides various services to refugees and asylum seekers in Greece.
In the evenings, the volunteers walked the streets of Athens alongside partners from an organization called Emfasis, which serves the homeless population of Athens, passing out bottles of water and other necessities.
The volunteers also traveled to the outskirts of the city and took part in various environmental activities, including trash clean ups with the municipality of Palaio Faliro and the planting of more than 600 trees in Gerakas, together with the local Greek volunteer group We4All.
Weekends were filled with numerous cultural activities, including a concert at the ancient Irodion Theater and a wine seminar at a local wine bar where Giovanna Lykou, one of Greece’s top sommeliers, shared her expertise about the country’s rich wine heritage.
In total, the Foundation leads two three-week-long programs in Athens and a third three-week-long program on the island of Chios, where volunteers work alongside Ark of the World (Kivotos Tou Kosmou), a children’s orphanage, and METAdrasi, an organization that supports refugee children.
The Foundation has plans to expand the program to northern Greece next summer, following a visit to Thessaloniki by Gregory Pappas, the founder of the Greek America Foundation, who was hosted to a working lunch to discuss plans by Elizabeth Lee, the U.S. Consul General.
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