(Photo provided by author)
My Grandfather survived a genocide,”The Great Fire of Smyrna” of 1922. He fled to a nearby Greek island, Chios, losing a brother and parents. Occurring days after Turkish forces took over the city, effectively ending the Greco-Turkish War, many historians have concluded the fire was deliberately set by Turkish soldiers, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Greek and Armenian residents.
Two years ago, I traveled back to Chios with my teen daughters, and my mother, and returned knowing we had to help. Before the trip, we were warned by an Athenian businessman not to go. There were almost 2,000 mostly Syrian refugees living in makeshift tents, while the islanders donated their own food and clothing. Syrian children, and families, were arriving in overcrowded rubber boats on the same shores where we once vacationed as children.
As a child, my artist mother enjoyed saying “art saves lives.” After that trip, I finally understood how this may be true. Since 2016, our Pittsburgh-based volunteer team, Midnight Helpers, has shipped three tons of aid to Chios island, including 200 suitcases with wheels. The aid requested by the team on Chios included suitcases with wheels, dried energy bars, sweats, new socks, underwear, men’s sneakers, strollers, old laptops, and smart phones.
Through social media, we have been able to send direct aid and communicate freely with the refugees. They have posted unfathomable wartime experiences, requests and even art! Midnight Helpers has been able to act as a channel for networking urgent information and aid simply through us…ordinary people!
The fact that I and my mother are both artists made us natural observers of the situation on Chios. Midnight Helper’s social media site exchanges art with members to convey hope. Several refugees have even sold and exhibited their compelling art. Stamoolis Brothers have joined our fight and act as our donation center in Pittsburgh, delivering three palletized truckloads to my home, from where it is then shipped. A humanitarian from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral acted as fundraiser, in addition to our gathering of small amounts, all adding up to shipment costs. Our only expense is shipping through a strong, kind-hearted company. Two local churches have let us use their non-profit status.
Maybe art or the vision born of art can save lives….Mom.
ROY is a nationally known artist with work in private collections such as the Smithsonian, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Further information about Midnight Helpers and its mission can be found on Facebook.