Eleni Johnson of St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church remembers March 8, 2020, very well.
It was, unbeknownst to anyone at the Wallings Road church, the last time the large youth ministry population would see each other again before the pandemic changed everything.
“When the kids left Sunday School and dance practice, the whole world shut down that week,” Johnson reflected. “Many of them haven’t been back. Youth ministries have either been postponed or turned to Zoom.”
Now, almost a year later, Johnson, who serves as Hellenic Dance director and co-adviser for Greek Orthodox Youth of America (GOYA) with fellow parishioner, Liz Popadiuk, knew it was time to bring the youngest parishioners back safely together.
The team recently organized a youth ministry food drive benefiting St. Mary of Egypt Orthodox Mission and Chapel, an Old Brooklyn-based center providing assistance to thousands of Clevelanders in need. For this project, the children were tasked with organizing and running their own individual drives using their social media networks to get the word out. More than 2,500 nonperishable food items, toiletries, and paper products were collected at the church and distributed.
“We were trying to figure out a way to get all these kids back to doing something, to reaching out and doing community service,” Johnson said. “When you have an active community and then it’s just gone… it’s just hard. These are huge things for these kids.”
More than 400 families call St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church home and being heavily involved in church activities and ministries are a huge component of the Greek culture, Johnson said. It was devastating to see everything come to a standstill, she noted. Prior to the pandemic, the church was bustling every night of the week with activities, whether it was Greek School, Hellenic Dance practice, GOYA activities for seventh-twelfth graders or Hope and Joy for preschoolers-sixth graders, among many other ministry events and meetings.
“As we go forward, we’re going to keep finding ways to get our youth involved,” Johnson said of future church activities. “The worst thing would be if the kids didn’t come back. We’re so blessed to have such a vibrant and active parish, but when you lose a kid and time goes by, chances are church activities aren’t going to be the first thing they run back to. We have to keep these kids engaged and involved.”
Opa! St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church is hosting their first Drive-Thru Gyro Fest this weekend, Feb. 26-28. Orders must be prepaid in advance using their website, stpaulgoc.org/.
The menu features lamb/beef/chicken gyros, Greek-style loaded tater tots, a pastitsio meal, and family dinner deals. Dessert options include baklava and rizogolo, a creamy rice pudding with cinnamon. See their website for more details and ordering/pick-up information. For questions, reach the church office at (440) 237-8998 or email messenger@stpaulgoc.org. St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church is located at 4548 Wallings Road in North Royalton.
Contributing Writer