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The Food Column: The Polamalus focus on good cause


Thursday, December 30, 2010

polamalufamily_160Theodora Polamalu will make a rare public appearance at a Jan. 25 dinner to raise funds for an Orthodox Christian charity.

A silent auction that night also will feature items signed by her Steeler husband, Troy, including adult and children's jerseys, a throwback jersey and a hat.

The Polamalus, Orthodox Christians themselves, want to bring a branch of FOCUS North America, the primary Orthodox outreach organization, to Pittsburgh. The dinner will help to finance the Pittsburgh center's planned opening on Orthodox Easter, April 24, 2011.

Thea Martin, president of the Ladies Philoptochos Society of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Mt. Lebanon, notes that the Pittsburgh center is in the process of securing a building. The center will focus on serving the working poor and will begin by feeding the hungry. As the center grows, it may move into other avenues of outreach, such as shelter or medical care, Mrs. Martin said.

Mrs. Martin hadn't heard of FOCUS until she attended a church convention in Atlanta. She stopped by to visit the FOCUS booth, discovered that Mrs. Polamalu is on the national FOCUS board, and began hatching a plan to ask Mrs. Polamalu to speak to her 150-member women's group.

What resulted was an event much larger than a speech for 150.

The Jan. 25 dinner at Holy Cross will include silent auction items from hotels, restaurants and other businesses in addition to the Polamalu memorabilia. The Greek dinner, at $50 per person, will include appetizers (feta, olives, hummus and pita), Kotopeta Avgholemono (chicken rolls), rice pilaf, green beans almondine and dessert (baklava and galatobouriko, a Greek custard in phyllo).

Mrs. Polamalu will speak on "Restoring Living Icons," or reaching out to serve other people just as Orthodox Christians might reach out to the saints depicted in their icons.

"FOCUS is a ministry that Troy and I are excited to be involved with since its mission to serve the poor is one that resonates deep within our philanthropy," Mrs. Polamalu said in a statement. "We chose to get involved with the ministry because as Orthodox Christians we are called to exemplify the commandments of Christ to care for our fellow man in need."

FOCUS, which started just last year, has seven other centers scattered across the country in cities such as Minneapolis, Orlando and San Diego. The name stands alternately for "Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve" or for "Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding and Shelter." The organization is Pan-Orthodox, meaning it is a cooperative effort of all Orthodox sects: Greek, Russian, Syrian and so on.

For the Jan. 25 dinner, RSVP by Jan. 10 to Vasso Paliouras at 412-563-3577 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

For more information on FOCUS North America and to order tickets online, visit (scroll down the home page to see information on the Pittsburgh-Polamalu event).


Charitable Giving IRA Legislation


iraCharitable Giving IRA Legislation Is Back for 2010 and 2011 but you must act today!

It's official—the president signed the charitable IRA rollover extension into law, and it will be in effect for 2010 and 2011. Donors aged 70½ or older are once again eligible to move up to $100,000 from their IRAs directly to qualified charities without having to pay income taxes on the money. Read about the details below from the Non Profit Times.

Your Gift made by December 31, 2010 may be deducted from your 2010 taxes. Please click the donate button above to donate today!  Your year-end gift will make a real difference in the lives of this in need.
For information on making a charitable donation of stock, other assets, a planned gift or a gift from your IRA please contact Fr. Justin at 816-399-0909 ext. 701 today.

December 21, 2010

IRA Charitable Rollover Included in Final Tax Bill

Included in the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2010 signed by President Obama earlier this week is the provision for the IRA (Individual Retirement Account) Charitable Rollover.

The new law allows donors age 70½ to exclude from their taxable income any IRA funds up to $100,000 that have been withdrawn and transferred to a charity when filing a tax return. The IRA Charitable Rollover expired at the end of 2009 and had been in effect since 2006.

The extension also is retroactive, meaning that the tax benefits of the provision apply to any qualified donations made after Dec. 31, 2009. The extension of the IRA Charitable Rollover also includes a special provision that allows taxpayers who make any qualified donations between Dec. 31, 2010, and Feb. 1, 2011, to deem that those donations were made on Dec. 31, 2010, for tax filing purposes, according to Paulette V. Maehara, CFRE, CAE, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) in Alexandria, Va.

The provision is extended through Dec. 31, 2011

“Tax incentives such as the IRA Charitable Rollover provision play a vital role in encouraging donors to make gifts, especially as the contribution amounts become larger,” said Maehara. “The rollover provision is a powerful and unique way that donors can make support charitable causes in their communities.”

AFP will be working with members of Congress to remove the $100,000 cap on gifts from IRAs and lower the age threshold for all such gifts from 70½ to 59½. “The IRA Charitable Rollover has worked very successfully over the last few years, but it could be enhanced to encourage additional giving,” added Maehara. “We believe the provision’s impact could reach billions of dollars annually once the public becomes more familiar with it.”


FOCUS Orange County’s holiday party delivered Build-a-Bears, good food, crafts, and a reason to celebrate


IMG_5940About a month ago, Nancy, a regular guest at the FOCUS Orange County Sunday night meals at Valencia Hotel, asked FOCUS Orange County Director Jacob Lee if the center would be giving out Christmas gifts to the children because she couldn’t afford to get her kids anything for Christmas.

Lee told her they would have gifts for the kids, but he wasn’t expecting the outpouring of love that volunteers would show to the working poor families living at the Valencia Hotel and the nearby El Dorado Hotel. Guests were treated to a catered taco dinner and gourmet cocoa and baked goods from a local bakery. Lee said that partygoers were also given bags of sweet and goodies to take home.

A highlight of the evening for the kids was the 70 Build-a-Bears that were given away. “The bears were already assembled and each one was unique,” Lee said. The bears were new and were a real treat for the kids as they usually sell for about $60 per bear.

Kids were also invited to make Christmas crafts and decorate stockings to take home. And people like Nancy could pick out unwrapped gifts for their kids and wrap them at a wrapping station at the event. Lee said parents could choose new things for their kids like Legos, Pay-Doh, dolls, baseball mitts, games and much more. So parents left the event with gifts they got to choose for their kids and could give to them on Christmas.

Nancy came up to me at the party with tears in her eyes,” Lee said. “She said she was so thankful for everything because she said she never could have provided such gifts for her kids.”

In addition to great food, crafts and presents, volunteers also had six tables full of new and used clothing and shoes for guests to take. Volunteers also took holiday photos of individuals and families so they would have a way to remember the event.

The party was funded by a woman at St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church and a group of her friends. Lee said they provided all the food, gifts, activities and volunteer help as well.

Lee said there were about 150 guests at the party, their largest group yet.


FOCUS Gateway City (St. Louis, MO) gives over 100 Christmas presents to homeless and working poor


DSCN5587Earlier this year, George’s house burned down. While his wife and three kids now share a two-bedroom house with another family, George chooses to stay at a shelter to provide more room for his family and so he doesn’t burden their hosts. Working odd jobs helps pay for some of his families needs, but it isn’t enough to move them into their own apartment.

He likes going to the Sunday night meals at FOCUS Gateway City (St. Louis, MO) because, “people actually sit down and talk to me,” he says. FOCUS Gateway City serves all its meals “family style” so the volunteers sit with guests and everyone is served from the same bowl at the table. For volunteers it may seem like a small thing, but to people like George it provides a sense of “family” when one may be scarce.

Last Sunday’s Christmas party and dinner was no different. Families, single men and women, homeless individuals and those who work but still cannot pay for enough food to get them through the week … All sat together and enjoyed a hot meal, Christmas carols, and even presents. And George’s family was there too!

All Saints of North America Antiochian Church and Assumption Greek Orthodox Church’s Philoptochos chapter collected Christmas gifts for the children and adults attending the party. Together they collected over 100 presents!

Volunteers from All Saints and St. Basil Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia served food, sat and fellowshipped with guests, led partygoers in Christmas carols and handed out the gifts. In addition to the many toys, books and other children’s gifts, adults received scarves, blankets and gloves.

A group of three men were particularly happy about getting blankets, said FOCUS Gateway City Director Eric Shanburn. “These three guys are regulars,” explained Shanburn. “They don’t like to stay at the shelters because their stuff gets taken, there are too many fights, and it doesn’t ever seem to work out well for them.”

Shanburn said that a couple weeks ago when the temperature was in the teens, the guys told him they almost had all four walls completed on their makeshift shack. “They needed blankets and we didn’t have any,” Shanburn said. “They didn’t even have any hats on.”

Well at Sunday’s Christmas party and dinner, the three men got some blankets and hats to help keep them warm as they continue to struggle with life on the street. Additionally, Shanburn and local FOCUS Gateway City volunteers are working with these any many others to find safe housing and life-recovery.

Shanburn said he was most impressed by a six-year-old boy named Isaiah. “I hadn’t seen him in a few weeks and had been sending cookies home with neighbors to give to him,” he said. Isaiah lives near the church where FOCUS Gateway City serves meals and Shanburn said the boy had been looking forward to his Christmas gift for three months.

Isaiah showed up late and announced to Shanburn, “I’m here! Do you have a Christmas gift for me?” Shanburn gave him his gift and Isaiah was so grateful for his one new thing. “So may of the kids and families were interested in having more and Isaiah was content with his one thing and never asked for anything else.”



Matching Challenge Fall 2010


Matching Challenge Fall 2010


With your support in 2011, FOCUS North America hopes to have directors at all of our seven current FOCUS Centers, help even more people in need, double the number of students reached through the YES (Youth Equipped to Serve) program and support new partner ministries. Learn how your gift today can double in value to provide twice as much help!

Donate today and your gift to FOCUS North America will double in value!

IMG_9351Thanks to you, 2010 has been a fantastic year. FOCUS North America started this year with one center in Kansas City, Missouri, a few ministry partners, three full-time and two part-time employees at the national office, a small but viable sum of cash, and a carefully worked-out strategic vision for expanding its ministry. FOCUS North America still has only seven employees and some cash, but now there are seven FOCUS centers in development – yes, seven. I share my joy again! These centers – in the Twin Cities, San Diego, Orange County, St. Louis, Appalachia, Orlando and Kansas City – deliver hot, nutritious meals, clothes, home repair, job assistance, addiction counseling and many other vital life recovery services to hungry and hurting men, women and children.

Your gift will help working poor and transitionally homeless people in North America, people like the Sanchez family. The Sanchez family speaks little English. Despite Mom holding one job and Dad holding two, they do not always have enough. Like many they must choose between the bills and food for their children. They are regulars now at the FOCUS Minnesota meal and are also getting help with clothing and housing needs.

With your generous gifts, people like the Sanchez family all across North America can experience God's hope and healing through the Orthodox Church too. Your gift to FOCUS North America will provide twice as many meals and clothing. It will double the number of hours of Christ-centered counseling and work training. Most importantly, it will touch twice as many lives with Christ's love and make a life-changing difference.

What a wonderful opportunity this is for Orthodox Christians to help the poor in their own country! An opportunity that is possible because the board of directors has given an incredibly generous Matching Gift Challenge of $250,000. The board is challenging all of us to match it dollar for dollar by December 31, 2010. With your generous match, we will have $500,000 to help the poor in North America.

Because the need at home is so great, we really need to raise those matching funds. And that's why I need your help today. Will you help us match the $250,000 generously donated by the board of directors?

Combined with the Matching Gift Challenge already given, any donation you send today will double in impact to provide the following:
*Twice as many hot, nutritious meals for the hungry,
*Twice as much occupational and job training to the unemployed,
*Twice as much clothing to the naked and cold, and
*Twice as much understanding and Christian counseling for the hopeless.

Your matched gift will enable us to multiply our help to the poorest men, women and children in North America- living icons of Christ and ensure FOCUS North America's ministries continue to grow to meet the pressing demand. That way, they can find new lives of purpose and meaning-and return to our communities transformed.


Your support today will provide more than handouts, it will save lives.

Please click here to double your gift today!

Whatever you donate will double in value to feed and care for thousands of hungry, hurting men, women and children. Together we can be a powerful witness of the Orthodox Church in North America and our Lord's love for "the least of these."

Thank you and may God bless you.

For Those We Serve,


Fr. Justin Mathews
Executive Director and CEO

P.S. To double the value of your gift and touch twice as many lives through FOCUS North America, please click here and donate today. Thank you!


“Restoring Living Icons” event featuring Theodora Polamalu to benefit working poor in Pittsburgh


Dinner with TheodoraOrthodox Christians in the Pittsburg area and nationwide are ramping up efforts to reach out to their neighbors and provide necessary assistance to the “least of these” among us.

Troy and Theodora Polamalu are helping to spearhead efforts to develop a FOCUS Center in the Pittsburg area. Join Theodora, a valued member of the FOCUS North America Advisory Board, for dinner and conversation on January 25, 2011, from 6-9PM at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh. Come hear Theodora share how “Restoring Living Icons” helps Christians fulfill their Gospel calling to see Christ in others.

There is a $50 donation for the event and there will also be a silent auction, which will include memorabilia personally signed by Troy Polamalu.

And if you cannot join Theodora in Pittsburg, please pray for the continued pan-Orthodox commitment to the working poor in the Pittsburg area and consider financially sponsoring this worthwhile event!

For more information on the “Restoring Living Icons” event Click Here !


'House of Blues’ concert benefits FOCUS Orange County


FOCUS-OC-HOBOver 1000 people attended the Dec. 3rd House of Blues  at Downtown Disney charity concert benefiting FOCUS Orange County and two other local charities. FOCUS Orange County was given 15 minutes of stage time to share the work FOCUS Orange County is doing and collected 150 cans of food for the food pantry at El Dorado Motel, which makes the food available to the many working poor families staying at its motel and the neighboring Valencia Motel.

In November, FOCUS Orange County began its weekly meal ministry at the Valencia, where 100+  meals are served each Sunday night by FOCUS volunteers. Working poor families may also receive clothing items that have been donated.

Stocking the El Dorado’s food pantry is just one more way FOCUS Orange County is working with area Orthodox churches to make sure that working poor families will not have to choose between food or shelter this Christmas.


Faithful youth bring purpose to their holiday parties


While many young people will be gathering to celebrate this season with tasty food, hip music and fabulous gift exchanges, others are helping those less fortunate and want to use their parties to bring purpose to the lives of others.

The Youth Worker Pulse, a publication of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s Department of Youth and Young Adult Ministries recently published same great ideas for how young people can bring purpose to their parties:

Feed Other First

Before you sit down to have a Christmas party meal, make dinner and take it to a local shelter or halfway house. Or take your youth group to prepare meals at the local soup kitchen. You can also bake Christmas cookies, package them up in nice cookie tins, and deliver them to shut-ins and elderly people in nursing homes. After feeding others, then sit down to enjoy a meal together as a family.

Give to Others First

Instead of having a gift exchange, contact the local shelter or children’s hospital to see if there are families with wish lists. Then, as a youth group, go shopping to fulfill the needs of some of the families. Bring items back to wrap or prepare for delivery. Then after delivering the gifts, go grab a bite to eat as a group and discuss how you can contribute throughout the year.

Be With Others First

There are those who do not have family or friends to join at a Christmas party. So take the Christmas joy and fellowship out into your community. Have a Traveling Party… Ask your parish priests about families and individuals who could use a friendly face, a warm greeting, and a few Christmas carols.

 Other ways to have a Christmas Party with Purpose

casino online .5in; text-indent: -.25in; mso-pagination: none; mso-list: l0 level1 lfo1; tab-stops: list .5in; mso-layout-grid-align: none; text-autospace: none;">v    Ask everyone to bring a bag of canned goods to take to the local food pantry.

v    Connect with your parish Philoptochos or other local philanthropic organizations to organize a Christmas fundraising event. Funds can go to any charity or cause you can imagine… IOCC, OCMC, Feeding America, Make-A-Wish Foundation, etc,

v    Gather together and make cards/icons to send to those who serve in the Military OR to send to missionaries throughout the world.

And here at FOCUS North America we also want to encourage young and old to remember those in your cities, neighborhoods and even your churches who may need extra attention and care. There are many worthy organizations doing the GOOD work of showing Christ to others. Check out the FOCUS North America website for ministries in your area! 


FOCUS Orange County providing food and hope for area’s working poor


focus-OC-groupWhile some families are trying to decide between a visit to Grandma’s on Christmas, or how much turkey to cook for their guests, others are trying to make the difficult decision between shelter or food this holiday season.

November marked the beginning of FOCUS Orange County’s weekly ministry to the area’s working poor. Sunday nights at the Valencia Inn an average of 35 FOCUS Orange County volunteers serve over 100 hot meals and give away free clothing to working poor families living in area motels.

Motel owners know that many families will be moving off the streets during this holiday time to try and provide the gift of a warm bed and running water for their families. In order to afford the motel room, many will sacrifice money they would have spent on food. In an effort to make sure these families do not have to choose between shelter and food, FOCUS Orange County is partnering with area Orthodox churches to collect food to stock the El Dorado motel’s food pantry, which also services those living at the Valencia motel.


In the month of November, FOCUS Orange county also partnered with the City of Anaheim to provide food for people attending the city’s vaccine drive for the working poor. Through the generosity of St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church’s Philoptochos chapter, food and supplies were purchased for the event. Volunteers from St. Mark Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. John the Theologian Antiochian Orthodox Church, St. Paul Greek Orthodox Church, St. Marina Coptic Orthodox Church and St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church helped with the event and served 100

hot dogs and 150 hamburgers to families who were waiting for their vaccinations. FOCUS volunteers also ran a kid’s fishing game booth at the event.

Through the prayers and financial support of faithful people, FOCUS Orange County continues to work hard to assist the working poor in its area.


FOCUS OC at Anaheim House of Blues


hoblogoFOCUS Orange County will be collecting canned food at the House of Blues Holiday Concert this Friday night Dec. 3rd from 6pm to Midnight. Come out and support FOCUS OC and the work we are doing to serve the working poor here in the OC. Jacob Lee the FOCUS OC director will be speaking about the work of FOCUS OC between the 2nd and 3rd bands approx 8:40pm to 8:55pm. We are hopping to fill the FOCUS Truck full of food so please come by and drop off a can of food for the working poor of Orange County.

Dicounted tickets can be purchased here:

Thanks for your continued Prayer and Support.

In Christ,


Jacob Lee
FOCUS OC Director


Twin Cities first Orthodox Christian charity opens in St. Paul


FOCUS Minnesota is in the news. Click here to read an excellent article about the great work our center is doing in Minnesota.

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