By Paul Kotrotsios, Special to the Hellenic News of America
The Greek Children’s Fund was established in 1983 by Stanley Matthews, a Greek American businessman whose mission was to provide financial assistance towards the daily, non-medical needs of children of Hellenic descent and their families who suffer from cancer and life-threatening illnesses. Throughout its 40-year history, the Fund has continued to better the world and has remained an all-volunteer-run organization that raises funds through events, sponsorships, and partnerships. To date, the Greek Children’s Fund has raised in excess of $10 million and has helped over 10,000 families and their children be treated in the United States. Paul Kotrotsios, founder of the Hellenic News of America sat down with Sam Matthews, president of the Greek Children’s Fund (GCF), and discussed the history and remarkable work of GCF.
Paul Kotrotsios: I am glad that you have decided to rebrand the Greek Children’s Fund because there is a need in the Greek American Community for such support.
Sam Matthews: In its 40th year, the Greek Children’s Fund has provided non-medical financial assistance to over 10,000 pediatric patients of Hellenic descent with life-threatening illnesses and has provided in excess of $10,000,000.00 in aid.
This past year the Greek Children’s Fund has provided financial non-medical assistance to several pediatric patients in need.
One patient is a four-year-old Greek American boy from Eastern Long Island, who suffers from neuroblastoma. As a result of the severity of his treatment and surgeries the patient needed to find a private temporary residence near Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer in New York. The Fund provided assistance by paying three months rental.
The second is a three-year-old boy from Greece who was a cancer patient at Shriner Children’s Hospital wherein the Fund paid for the patient’s hotel and uber expenses.
The third is a 6 years old girl from Greece treated at Boston Children’s Hospital wherein the Fund provided financial assistance for daily living assistance including food.
The fourth is a Greek American pediatric patient who needed financial assistance for daily necessities.
Furthermore, to protect the integrity of the Fund and the privacy of the patients, all patient requests are submitted confidentially in writing with medical documentation confirming the patient’s medical status and affirmation of the patient’s non-medical financial needs.
PK: Tell me a little bit about the story Sam…
SM: My dad, Stanley Matthews, started The Fund in 1983. In 1979 my 11-year-old sister Kathy, who is 2 years younger than me, was diagnosed with leukemia. My sister was treated for three years at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer in NYC. During these three years, my dad met many Greek National families whose children were treated at MSKCC. Most of these families could not speak English, were in a foreign country, were unfamiliar with the US health care system, did not have money to eat or for lodging fees (predominantly Ronald McDonald House), and were dealing with their child’s fight for survival.
From December 1979 until February 1983, my parents would give their own money to assist these families. This extended to my aunts, uncles, and family friends giving out of their own pockets. In February of 1983, my dad was approached by an MSKCC social worker, Margherita Mayer (of Greek descent), to establish The Greek Children’s Fund for the purpose of raising and distributing funds to these families. With the support of Mortimer H. Chute, Vice President of the Development Office, and the assistance of Julia McCormack the Fund was established.
In the 1990’s there was a tremendous influx of Greek patients from Greece. Upwards of 35 per year. This coincided with the fallout of Chernobyl. The pediatric cancer rate in Greece skyrocketed years after this disaster.
To accommodate this tremendous need, the Fund had to step up its fundraising efforts and incorporated as an IRS tax-exempt entity working with MSKCC. This enabled the Fund to provide financial assistance to patients treated at other hospitals.
During the first twenty years, the Fund provided assistance to cancer patients. Upon Greece’s entry to the European Union, the influx of Greek pediatric cancer patients dropped significantly. This caused the Fund to pivot and evolve and broaden its scope to patients suffering from life-threatening illnesses and focusing on Greek Americans.
PK: I am speechless!
SM: For many years at MSKCC there was the need for a full-time Greek-speaking social worker, Dora Ziongas, exclusively servicing Greek pediatric patients. Additionally, The Fund paid for a one-year medical fellowship for Dr. Vasillios Papadakis who is now chief of cancer at Aghia Sophia Hospital in Athens, Greece.
PK: A dear friend of mine from Epirus!
SM: Yes! The Hospital hired her, The GCF paid for her salary and benefits.
Moreover, in COVID era The Fund provided financial assistance to several Greek American patients and their families who suffered a serious financial detriment. The bylaws enable The Fund to provide assistance under exceptional circumstances to help people of our community.
Finally, the other resource the Fund has is its ability to offer academic scholarships to students of Hellenic descent who study in the medical field. As part of our current evolution and branding, The Fund is creating a scholarship committee for that purpose. We will be looking for people with academic and medical backgrounds along with our current members to serve.
PK: I am really moved by the wonderful good deeds that the Greek Children’s Fund has done and I want to disseminate that information to the community via Hellenic News of America’s platform.
SM: Yes, all the money goes to the families. So this year is the 40th anniversary of the Fund. The Fund started its operation in February 1983. In the past, we had some dinner galas, concerts, and telethons. This year we are organizing a forty-year award event. And of course, my focus for the 40th anniversary is our youth. Our children, the next generation.
In the 40th anniversary the first and the most important thing is to educate the public about what we are doing and secondly to ask for support. For this anniversary the Fund will recognize 40 individuals from our past, present, and future.
PK: This is a noble cause and should be supported by everybody. You are focusing on helping Greek families that are coming from Greece to an unknown America. You are changing the direction as the need comes along.
SM: As the current President and having served in that capacity for most of the past 30 years, I want to mention that the success of The Greek Children’s Fund is attributed to the support of the Greek American community and the volunteer efforts of our committee members. I extend my personal gratitude to Tina Anastos, Eleftheria Georgelis, Irene Drakoupoulos, Ismini Michaels, Stelios Michaels, Chris Coroneos; Past President, George Papas, Peter Nanos, Thamie Nanos, Chris Nanos, George, and Pauline Galuris; Mona Zisimopoulos, Nick Pavlou, Maria Hadjidemetriou, Maria Mandalakis; Nick Nicolaou; Past President, Kelly Nicolaou, Irene Vlitas, Maria Vlitas, Marina Tsotsos; Past Chair, Nick Pavlou, Tom Kostopoulos, Demetra Tsimicalis, Katie Papoutsakis, Joanna Simionescu, Dr. James Bayiokas, Elaine Charas, Agapios Kyritsis, Eleni Tsamblakos, Maria Paschalis, Angela Philips, George Kitsios, Past President, Mike and Soula Kammas, Anastasia Kanaras, Vaia Bekas, Despina Axiotakis, Sophia Antonakos, and Stanley Matthews, Founder, and Chairman, along with several other volunteers, whose dedication and passion have made the Fund a success.
PK: And there is still Greek American Community out there that works for the greater good. We need your organization for us and for our youth.
What are you focusing on professionally?
SM: As an attorney, I represent all aspects of the hospitality industry, with a focus on asset protection via the implementation of employee handbooks and policy and procedure manuals. Additionally, I perform transactional work and lead my firm’s plaintiff litigation and Landlord litigation.