By: Andrea Photopoulos Papa
I live in San Jose, CA and my Greek roots are Chora, Andros and Kyparissia in Peloponnesus. I am a woman of many hats. A registered Dental Hygienist but currently wearing my mommy and preschool teacher hat taking care of four littles (ages 1, 2, 3, & 4 my two daughters and my niece and nephew) while trying to bring positive energy and spread kindness through my social media platforms, especially my YouTube channel @InsideMyMusicBox. I am all things art, a singer, videographer, photographer, writer, event and home designer. I love my Greek community and church and have been very involved in the Daughters of Penelope and Maids of Athena, holding different office positions through the years, volunteering, and fundraising.
To say that 2020 has been a challenging year is an understatement. If someone would have told us what was to come this year, we would have never believed, you just couldn’t comprehend such madness. No church, no Greek Festivals, no school, no work, no travel, no celebrations, sheltering in place for months….like a bad dream or creepy movie. A trail of negative has paved its way through our lives, but through all the bad if you look closely you will realize that there is still a lot of good. The story I’m about to share is just one small example of the power of kindness and the strength of the Greeks’ love of their country and community.
A family friend reached out to me in May about selling a mask with a Greek flag design as a business venture. COVID-19 had taken its course on affecting our lives and suddenly when for a while no one could even get a mask, now it was required that we wear them in public. He said he posted a picture on social media and had already pre-sold 64 masks in two days. At first, I really didn’t know what to think, but I told him I’d sleep on it and so I did. That night I came up with the idea to sell them as a fundraiser to help my church. The Greek Festival was canceled at the end of the month and not only would everyone miss flaunting with pride every Greek flag, blue and white outfit and mati accessory they owned but it was also our biggest fundraiser. I love my church and I was so disappointed to not be volunteering and meeting friends and family for our annual dinners in the dining room. So I went for it, why not? Amazingly, just as fast as I clicked the post button, I was up to my ears in inquiries about wanting to purchase these masks. I was overwhelmed with the love and support I was receiving from my fellow Greeks. Greek people from all over the United States, even Greeks from other countries were wanting to support me in my fundraising adventure for the church. I was so grateful to raise $1,000 for my church in a time of need in just one week. The Greek Philotimo is so powerful. If you aren’t familiar with the saying it is defined as “Philotimo” considered to be the highest of all Greek virtues, the standards for family and social living; the core concept is that of respect and walking in the right paths. In its simplest form, the term means “doing good”, actions that ensure that one’s behavior be exemplary and demonstrate one’s personality and the manner in which one was raised. Philotimo to a Greek is essentially a way of life. At the time I did not realize how much these individuals would mean to me, but I’d soon find out.
Around the same time, my Yiayia was diagnosed with brain cancer which really threw me into a state of determination to help. I knew I couldn’t save her, I knew I couldn’t really do anything except be there and love her, but I felt like fundraising was the one thing I could do that would help me feel like I was contributing. So I continued the mask madness. Selling 1,000s of masks, staying up all night addressing and packaging the envelopes when my toddlers were asleep and making trips to the post office once a week carrying bags stuffed with orders. I was running a mask selling marathon and eventually, I started to feel silly and stupid and hopeless. What was I doing? This was silly, selling masks wasn’t going to change my Yiayia’s fate. Cancer is ruthless and ugly and painful, but you know what helped?….the Greek Philotimo. Selling the masks didn’t help my Yiayia or me, the people I met because I was selling the masks helped. They helped give me hope. They showed me kindness. Complete strangers praying for my Yiayia, praying for me…they reached out to see how I was doing and how Yiayia was even after they received their mask. They sent me pictures of themselves wearing their masks and shared stories of how happy the masks were making them. You see? Our love of our country, our love of our Greek community unites us. My Yiayia’s health declined quickly and she passed peacefully and gracefully, she wasn’t in pain and didn’t suffer and I truly believe that all these wonderful
individual’s prayers helped her on her journey. I felt the strength of the Greek Philotimo and it gave me hope. The people I met shared their struggles with cancer good and bad and they knew how I felt and we connected. I was praying for them and they were praying for me. Many of them are now connections on social media and continue to support me in my endeavors. It was the positive that we need to look for and focus on right now. It wasn’t about the masks, it wasn’t about the money, it became more than that. Something much bigger. In taking action to give back, I was hoping to inspire others and was so touched to learn that I did.
About a month into “Masks for Yiayia Masks for a Cause”, my family friend who started me on this endeavor and was my mask supplier, called me and shared that he was joining the mask fundraising madness. He shared full heartedly that I had inspired him with what I had done and he was going to raise money for a cause that meant something to his heart in memory of his brother. Wow, I was so moved and so proud that my act of kindness was spreading into a pay it forward mission. In difficult times like these we tend to turn away from God, we feel that he has abandoned us, but the truth is He is in us, He is in these acts of kindness and I hope the cycle of positive inspiration continues. The Greek culture and religion go so tightly hand in hand which makes sense as to why Philotimo is so amazingly strong and present within the hearts of the Greek people. My pride for my Greek heritage has never been more grand than at this moment in my life. My mission is not complete. I’m still selling masks for causes that mean something to my heart and I will never forget this experience. Stay strong. Stay well. Never forget the power of kindness and the strength of the Greek Philotimo.
I hope my story inspires you to take action and give back. The power of kindness is unstoppable and can change the world.
If you’d like to support my cause and learn more about my mask fundraisers, you can find my Facebook page @ Masks for Yiayia Masks for a Cause or e-mail me at [email protected].
If you’d like to learn more about supporting my friend George’s cause in memory of his brother, please visit www.remember-jerry.com.