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Orthodox Christians Prepare 35,000 Health Kits for Tsunami Survivors

Baltimore (IOCC) - A wave of caring is sweeping across the country in the form of "Gift of the Heart" health kits being assembled for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Orthodox Christians young and old are assembling the health kits for shipment to the tsunami-affected countries in response to an appeal by International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC). From national Church organizations to the smallest parish, thousands of kits are being made.

The Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society, which has 27,000 members, and the young adult ministry of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America have both made the health kits a national project.

"Our calling as Christians is to love one another and assist those in need," said Georgia Skeadas, national president of the Ladies Philoptochos Society. "Assembling these health kits is one way to demonstrate Christ's love in a tangible way in the face of overwhelming need."

Young adult chapters throughout the U.S. will be assembling and collecting the health kits at various functions, social gatherings and parish events. Their goal is 5,000.

"Just knowing that so many neighbors from across the globe are extending their hands, has to provide hope and comfort to the victims," said Fr. Mark A. Leondis, national director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Greek Archdiocese.

The health and school kits are being assembled by Orthodox Christians for the "Gift of the Heart" program of Church World Service, a longtime partner of IOCC. The kits are then sent to the Church of the Brethren Service Center Annex in New Windsor, Md., a warehouse facility where they are prepared for shipment overseas.

Loretta Wolf, director of Service Ministries for the Church of the Brethren General Board, said the number of IOCC-generated health kits arriving at the warehouse has increased considerably over the past few weeks.

Many of them are coming from Orthodox parishes across the country. Martha Tausche, a member of St. George Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral in Wichita, Kan., is overseeing the assembly of 500 kits - an effort that she says quickly "outgrew my dining room."

"I just couldn't comprehend the thought of waking up in a place and not having the simple things that give a human life dignity," said Ms. Tausche, whose son, Jonah, is part Asian. "I just wanted to do something."

Ms. Tausche got stores to donate all the items for the health kits and is getting help from the cathedral's Community Support Team to assemble the kits. "This little kit is going to have a real impact in the real world. Christ is alive in the little things we do for others," she said.

Baltimore's Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation has set a goal to assemble 1,000 kits. During a recent children's sermon, Fr. Constantine Moralis, cathedral dean, invited nine children up front to help him display and assemble the nine items that make up a health kit. The demonstration made an impact. Already, hundreds of the kits fill the cathedral's halls. Families, friends and religious classes also are assembling the kits.

At Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston, elementary and middle-school students are doing their part to assemble the kits. Head of School Mark H. Kelly sent a letter to all parents asking them to participate in the effort.

"The kids like the idea of being involved," Kelly said, "and the student councils are taking a leadership role." Kelly estimates that the school will be able to generate more than 500 kits.

That number is likely to grow to 1,500 with the combined efforts of Orthodox Christians in Houston, said Martha Stefanidakis, president of Philoptochos for the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Denver.

"This outpouring of support from across the country will make a meaningful difference in the lives of thousands of tsunami survivors who are lacking in common necessities," said IOCC Executive Director Constantine M. Triantafilou. "It's one of the most effective ways that we can help the victims of such a devastating disaster."

To learn more about the health kit initiative, please visit www.iocc.org/healthkits. To learn how to pack a "Gift of the Heart" school kit, please visit www.iocc.org/schoolkits.

Donations for IOCC's "Asia Disaster Response" may be sent to IOCC, P.O. Box 630225, Baltimore, MD 21263-0225. Donations may also be made online at www.iocc.org/tsunami or by calling toll-free 1-877-803-4622.

For media inquiries, please contact IOCC Communications Associate Stephen Huba at 1-877-803-4622 or [email protected]