The Armenian Relief Society Eastern Region (ARS of Eastern USA) has always been at the forefront of relief efforts and humanitarian aid during times of crisis for the Armenian people, both in the homeland and in the diaspora. When the novel coronavirus crisis began, the ARS of Eastern USA sprang into action, both in the local communities through their chapters and internationally. The Armenian Weekly recently spoke with ARS of Eastern USA Board Chairwoman Ani Attar regarding the efforts related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Armenian Weekly: What was the ARS Eastern Region’s initial response to the coronavirus crisis in terms of a plan of action?
ARS of Eastern USA Board Chair Ani Attar: Our board had been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation. When it was deemed a global pandemic, we wanted to make sure that all our members had access to information to stay safe. Therefore, we asked our chapter executives to reach out to their members to ensure that they were up to date with current information and to see if anyone needed anything. Next, our chapter executives reached out to their community members to see if they needed anything. For many, ARS is like a second family. We wanted to make sure that our people knew their family was thinking of them and was there if and when they needed help.
A.W.: Were there specific areas of concern on which the Regional Board focused?
A.A.: Yes, our primary concern was with our elderly. Fortunately, this was not a major concern because we know that our elderly receive good care from their family members. In the event of need, however, our chapters were ready to assist with any kind of request. Another concern was that so many of our chapters had planned spring fundraisers that had to be cancelled. These fundraisers generate the monies needed to keep our many projects and programs running. This too will pass; we will get through it together and meet again stronger than ever.
A.W.: What prompted the Regional Board’s decision to decide on Feed America for its fundraising effort entitled “Feeding Families, Providing Hope?”
A.A.: As members of this society, the United States has given us so many opportunities. The ongoing crisis has resulted in increasing numbers of people struggling to get by because of unemployment and rising costs of living. So, we wanted to help our hungry neighbors by providing meals to our non-Armenian community. We chose to donate to Feeding America because of their reputation as the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization. All donations made by our ARS chapters, members and supporters will also be matched by the Tony Robbins Foundation allowing us to double our impact.
A.W.: How has the Regional Board maintained contact with the chapters?
A.A.: We are in constant contact with our chapters. I called for a Zoom meeting with all our chapter chairwomen on April 28. I reviewed with them the programs that were initiated due to the pandemic, including Lebanon Emergency Aid, Global Emergency Relief Fund and Feeding America. This meeting gave the chairwomen the opportunity to ask questions. I also asked each chapter to share what they have been doing in their communities. The Zoom meeting received a positive response with the chairwomen requesting that we do it again in the near future.
A.W.: We know that the Eastern Region Convention, which was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the convention, has been postponed to next year. Can you please elaborate on those changes and what is being planned by way of annual regional communications for this year in place of the convention?
A.A.: We will continue working as we have into the next fiscal year. Our programs will continue with the assistance of our chapters and supporters. So many of our chapters’ fundraisers had to be cancelled due to this pandemic. We have confidence that as soon as it is possible, our chapters will be back to work. Like so many other major events in our communities, our 100th convention had to be postponed to 2021. Our plan for replacing the convention this year is to hold a Zoom general membership meeting on July 25, 2020. It will be open to all ARS members. We will present our annual report as well as our financial report. A copy of the report will be emailed to all members at the beginning of July. We will ask our members to email their questions to the board so we may address them during the Zoom meeting. In the morning session, the annual report will be presented as a PowerPoint, and questions that were emailed will be answered at that time. The afternoon session will include the financial report followed by more questions and answers and comments by chapters. More details regarding this first-of-its-kind event will follow.
A.W.: Finally what would you like to tell our readers about the work of the ARS Eastern Region during times of crisis, and in particular, during this pandemic?
A.A.: Without a doubt, the Armenian Relief Society is no stranger to disasters and crises. Since its founding in 1910 the ARS has helped the most vulnerable in this world, especially during tragic times and in every corner of this world. That has been largely due to the humanitarian characters of our members who have continued to devote themselves to the ARS mission and always step up to help those around them. It’s because of their determination and commitment that I know we will continue to serve our communities, our homeland and our world, while continuing to celebrate different milestones and centennials with our supporters.
As a final note, the ARS of Eastern USA board, its chapters and members would like to thank all the nurses, doctors and front-line workers for risking their lives to keep us safe.
We ask anyone in the eastern region who is aware of someone in need of our assistance to please contact the ARS of Eastern USA office at [email protected]
ARS EASTERN REGION CHAPTERS TAKE ACTION DURING PANDEMIC
In response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the ARS chapters of the eastern region have offered and provided assistance wherever needed, often collaborating with sister organizations to deliver basic needs to those most vulnerable. In addition, special efforts have been made to express appreciation to those putting themselves at risk every day to keep their communities safe and healthy.
The New Jersey chapters (Agnouni, Armenouhi and Shakeh), along with their local sister organizations delivered food to the elderly in their communities and sent baskets to the Armenian healthcare professionals for their ongoing heroic work during the pandemic. In addition, the Armenouhi chapter of Bergen County donated hand sanitizer and masks to the Armenian Nursing Home and provided lunch to local hospitals.
Under the initiative and guidance of the Greater Boston ARS Social Services Program, the Cambridge Shushi and the Watertown Leola Sassouni chapters helped organize and deliver care packages to 35 women in the Watertown area for Mother’s Day. They brightened up their day by providing them with an ARS reusable shopping bag packed with choreg, chocolates, face masks, an Armenian poem and a friendly note.
The Chicago Zabelle chapter has been working with local sister organizations to help needy families in their community. They also provided grocery boxes for 50 healthcare workers at a Rehab & Senior Center. One of their own members, Hermineh Kholamian, has also been spending her time at home by sewing masks for healthcare workers.
The Philadelphia Ani chapter has continued to express the hearts, mission and devotion of the organization and its members during the pandemic. As member Dori Keshgegian noted, “In the blink of an eye our lives, our community and our world has changed.” One of the selfless members who has risen to the occasion and helped so many is Shnorhik Karakelian, an active member for more than 65 years, serving as president of the chapter for over 20 years and as a delegate to the regional convention 13 times. Karakelian has used her talent as a gifted seamstress to make hundreds of masks for the healthcare workers in the tri-state area and across the country.
Silva Santerian, another active member for over 10 years and Karakelian’s daughter, proudly follows in her mother’s footsteps. In collaboration with two close friends, she formed FLAG 2020 SEPA (Front Line Appreciation Group of Southeastern Pennsylvania) whose mission is to provide food to healthcare workers in the area, including in hospitals and nursing homes, while partnering with local restaurants to help sustain their businesses. So far FLAG 2020 SEPA has served over 1,000 meals with efforts ongoing. Facilities served thus far include hospitals in Riddle, Paoli, Chester County, Crozer-Keystone, as well as Fair Acres, Bellingham, Sterling and Capella Nursing Care facilities. In recognition of Santerian’s humanitarian efforts, the chapter made a monetary donation to the group.
Member for more than eight years Verjin Kazanjian and her husband Aram have owned and operated Soprano’s, a restaurant and catering business in Broomall, PA since 2000. In their usual manner of supporting the community, during the pandemic they have prepared lunches and dinners for the first responders, churches, hospitals and schools in the area. Soprano’s also generously donated gift cards and 10% of all proceeds back to the hospitals and to those in need.
Also in Philadelphia, the Artemis chapter donated to the St. Gregory Charity Fund to help parishioners in need and to the Philabundance, a local food bank.
In the Detroit area, the five chapters (Sybille, Maro, Zabel, Shakeh and Tzolig) provided hot lentil soup and lahmejun to the residents of the Armenian Senior Citizens Tower.
The Mayr chapter of New York delivered groceries to the needy families of New York. Along with their local sister organizations, they also sent thank you gifts to healthcare workers for their ongoing fight on the frontlines.
The Florida Sosseh chapter sent Mother’s Day baskets to community members to make them feel appreciated and loved!
The Lousintak chapter of Lowell donated to the Armenian Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica Plain, MA to assist with the purchase of N95 masks and to benefit the employee meal fund.
The Providence Ani and Arax chapters have joined local sister organizations to assist community members in need of groceries, medical supplies, and items like masks and cleaning supplies through Sts. Vartanantz Church’s “Aid to Parishioners in Need” program.
As the crisis continues, the ARS of Eastern USA board, chapters and members will continue to work for the good of their Armenian communities locally and internationally. Efforts are ongoing not only in the United States, but also in Armenia, Artsakh and Lebanon as the needs rise exponentially, both medically and economically.