By David Bjorkgren, Editor

Special the Hellenic News of America

The Hellenic News of America, through its charity organization, The Mid-Atlantic Greek American Foundation, has sent $2,500 to the Association of Earthquake victims in Vrisa Lesvou.

The money was collected at a paddle raise fundraiser during the newspaper’s 30th anniversary celebration Nov. 12, 2017.  “This is an auction where you bid and you get absolutely nothing in return. It’s for charity,” the hostess of the paddle raise told participants at the 30th anniversary celebration. “The most important thing is not how much you bid. The important thing is that you bid.”

The generous donations will help the village of Vrisa, which was destroyed after a 6.2 Richter earthquake hit the island of Lesvos in June 2017.

“The Association of Earthquake Victims was so grateful for the generous donation from the Mid-Atlantic Greek American Foundation,” said Karen Wrege, who is leading the fundraising efforts.

One person died in the earthquake and 15 others were injured. The village is home to 850 people and in the immediate aftermath, eight out of 10 homes were either destroyed or deemed uninhabitable.  Three hundred homes were completely destroyed.  Another 300 had so much damage they were unsafe to live in.

“Most of the inhabitants of the village were elderly and have never lived anywhere other than the village.  They are now homeless,” Wrege said.

“My family lived in the village of Vrisa and we knew that we needed to help the victims who are mostly elderly and many of whom have no means of survival and have literally lost everything,” Wrege said.

Families have either moved in with other families or friends or have relocated to other parts of Greece.  Charity organizations are providing basic humanitarian support; food, water, medical and transportation services, she said.

“We are more than honored to have partnered with Karen Wrege and her team from the Disaster Relief Fund: Lesvos Greece, to help raise funds for the victims of the earthquake that occurred on June 12, 2017 on the island of Lesvos in Greece,” said Hellenic News of America co-publisher Aphrodite Kotrotsios.  “We congratulate Karen and the entire Disaster Relief Fund: Lesvos Greece team on their wonderful initiative in lending a hand to the victims.”

The money will be used to provide medical assistance and transportation services for elder members of the community, Wrege said. Funds are also being used to help rebuild the village. So far, $15,000 has been raised through a You Caring campaign: https://www.youcaring.com/lesvosgreece-85718.

“We hope to raise $20,000 more through fundraising events and direct contributions from generous individuals and businesses in our community,” she said.

Progress has been made since the earthquake hit.  The school children went back to school last fall in a new pre-fabricated structure while the main school that was destroyed is being rebuilt.  Other homes are slowly being repaired and rebuilt.  Current projects include rebuilding the school, infrastructure and the church in the village

“Many victims are still living with other family members in nearby Vatera and in surrounding villages,” she said. Survivors continue to need basic humanitarian support while the village is rebuilt.

There are two ways to help. You can make a donation through the YouCaring page or by donating to Project Hope through the Greek America Foundation.

The village of Vrisa has existed since ancient times. Early Christian relics were found at Cape Vrisa (currently known as Agios Fokas) and are thought to be part of early Byzantine times in the 5th century A.D.

Vrisa villagers have been forced to rebuild over the centuries, during pirate raids in the Middle Byzantine and Late Byzantine period and during the dark times of the Middle Ages and the Ottoman Empire.

On Oct. 11, 1845 a similar earthquake destroyed most of the 60 houses in Vrisa.  After World War II, many inhabitants of Vrisa moved to Athens or to foreign lands; while others remained and fought the Axis powers that tried to take control of the island.

Over the last four years, Vrisa and other villages and beach communities in Lesvos have also taken in thousands of Syrian refugees; welcoming them on the island and providing them with food, shelter, and medical resources.  In June 2015 it was estimated that about 4,000 refugees arrived on the island of Lesvos each day, then transported to refugee camps.  Since the start of the refugee crisis the Mayor of Lesvos, Spyros Galinos, has been an advocate for the refugees, asking for more resources such as food and medicine for the refugees who have made the island their temporary homes. Recently, the people of Lesvos received global recognition when they were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in October of last year for their kindness and willingness to help those in need.