The Orlando Plan (1946 - 1947)

Ο John Camichos με μέλη της επιτροπής βοήθειας
(Σημ. Φιλίστωρος: Eδώ και καιρό έχει ωριμάσει η ιδέα να φιλοξενήσουμε και ξενόγλωσσο υλικό. Σήμερα λοιπόν κάνουμε πρεμιέρα με ένα άρθρο που μας έρχεται από την Αμερική με μια συγκλονιστική ιστορία ανθρωπιάς που αφορά τον μετανάστη Γιάννη Καμίτσο και την υιοθεσία του Βόλου από το Ορλάντο για ανθρωπιστικούς λόγους, που μας έστειλε ευγενικά η εγγονή του Lisa Camichos. Θα ακολουθήσουν και άλλα...)

γράφει η Lisa Camichos

In April of 1946 my Grandfather John Camichos (Kamitsos) received a letter from his brothers George and Stavros still living in Greece. (John had immigrated to the United States from  Pouri, Greece in the Pelion Region in 1916, and had made Orlando, Florida his home).  In this letter John learned of the conditions that still persisted in Volos, Greece- money was worthless, and food was badly needed. Italian and German soldiers had wrecked the ports, leaving boats stranded in the harbour. In the farming areas, Nazi’s had burned crops, killed livestock, and destroyed roads. After reading these letters, my Grandfather realized that without help, the people of Volos would die of starvation waiting for the crops due in June and July.

At this same time, during his weekly radio broadcast, President Truman urged Americans to help the starving peoples of Europe. Truman recalled that during WWII individual Americans had adopted orphans from other countries, and he encouraged the continuation of this practice. After hearing this radio address, Mrs. Margaret Bowe, a resident of Orlando decided to expand on this idea. Mrs. Bowe sent a proposal to the Orlando Jaycees Club recommending that Orlando be the first city in the United States to adopt an entire city in Europe- feeding and clothing the entire population for three months, at the end of which time the crops would be ready to harvest. On 22 April 1946 the Jaycees accepted Mrs. Bowe’s challenge, and began the development of the Orlando Plan. Directed by the Jaycees, the Orlando Plan also received support from civic groups, government organizations, churches, schools, and other clubs in the Orlando area. The objective of the Orlando Plan was to collect canned or dried food, and clothing to send to a European city which would be chosen with the help of the UNRRA.

Geneva & John Camichos 25 Μαρτίου, 1932
The Orlando Jaycees now faced the task of selecting a city to adopt. The Jaycees asked for assistance from the offices of Elizabeth Carr, UNRRA staff member in Washington, DC, and Florida Senator Claude “Red” Pepper to help them determine which European city faced the greatest danger from starvation. An unexpected illness of Mrs. Carr compelled the Jaycees to make its own selection, and on 25 April 1946, the Jaycees announced that the Greek city of Volos would receive relief supplies from Orlando. My grandfather was no stranger to relief efforts for Greece. In response to letters from family, friends, and strangers, he had spent hundreds of his own dollars for clothes, food, medical supplies, and freight costs, in order to help those trapped in Nazi occupied Greece.

My grandfather’s sister Persephone Volovini and her husband George wrote in 1945 that after 4 years of tyranny, starvation and fear, the family still did not know if it would live to see another day. Before the war they had owned a prospering seaside hotel. When the Germans arrived they took everything, and tore down all of the businesses by the seashore. “God granted us our lives, but we lost everything.” In closing the letter pleaded for assistance. The family noted that John was living far from the terrible war, and that those who had nothing prayed that God would help him have a successful business so that he might send money to the needy.

A photographer named Costa Zimeris, a stranger, wrote to my grandfather in 1944 saying “The bombs destroyed many homes and I with my family (4 children and wife) hid in the woods, chased by the German Gestapo, because we loved so much [sic] the freedom of our beautiful country.” The letter continued with a plea for old clothing in exchange for photographs that Zimmeris would send later. Now, with the inception of the Orlando Plan, my grandfather was able to work with the Jaycees and other civic organizations to help more people in Volos. When the Orlando Plan started, the Orlando Morning Sentinel owner and editor Martin Andersen sent  Associated Press writer to locate Mr. L.S. (Soc) Chakales to Volos to report back with news.  His news articles conveyed the hardships in Volos. When Nazi troops first arrived they packed and shipped items from Volos’s textile  mills, cigarette factories, and iron foundries back to Germany. Nazi troops also took personal possessions for shipment back to Germany.

Chakales told of the hardships experienced by Volos residents due to cold, starvation, and disease. Hundreds of Volos residents died in the streets from starvation in the winter of 1941-1942. At the start of the occupation Volos had a population of 50,000. Official records note that in 1940 169 people died. In 1941 the death toll climbed to 1,013, and by 1942, the death toll had risen to 2,585. Chakales reported of the horrors inflicted by the Nazi soldiers on civilians. At one point Germans executed 1-20 villagers at a time for various offenses against the Nazi’s. In the Spring of 1942, following an attack on German officers by Andartes Nazi soldiers gathered 12 villagers, including women and children, and took them to a churchyard on Mount Pelion. There, within the sacred walls they machine-gunned them to death. Other articles included Volos bombings by the Luftwaffe; and, that many Greeks survived on chickpeas, bread, olive oil and small amounts of meat with a daily caloric intake of  600 calories or less. By the time that citizens of Orlando read these stories 6000 cans of food waited for volunteers. While this was a good effort, 12 times this amount was needed to fill the 5 boxcars promised by the Jaycees when the Orlando Plan was started. Albert W. Ayre, a volunteer working full-time with the Jaycees said that Orlando must increase its efforts, or many Volos residents would die within the 90 days given for the drive. Mr. Ayre estimated that 35,000 cans were needed in order fill 5 boxcars. That meant that a donation of 5 cans of food per every man, woman and child in the city was needed in order to keep the Orlando Plan going.

Civic organization and citizens of Orlando increased their efforts to help Volos. Reverend Fayette Hall, President of the Orange County Ministers Association said that pastors belonging to the association would either use the Orlando Plan as the basis for their sermons, or urge its support from the pulpit. In addition, Reverend Hall announced plans to install receptacles in church entranceways were church members could drop extra cans of food. Orlando restaurants also worked to gather canned goods for the Orlando Plan. My grandfather started two campaigns at his restaurant, The Southland, that were later used by other restaurant owners. The Southland placed a display of canned foods near the cashier (my grandmother Geneva Camichos) with the wholesale prices listed. As the diner paid their bill, a poster encouraged them to add enough for the purchase of one or more cans of food at the wholesale price. The other campaign started at the Southland invited diners to spend their dessert money on canned food for Volos.

Εργαζόμενοι του «Southland»
The largest contribution came from two minority and disenfranchised sectors of Orlando, that being African-Americans and women. Winter Garden Junior High School, an all African- American school collected 1,800 cans of food. The largest contribution came from an all African-American high school. In less than 1 week, 800 African-American students at Jones High School collected 5,000 cans of food for Volos. This equaled 7 cans per student. Jaycees chairman Burton Thornall called this “the finest civic gesture he ever witnessed.” The housewives of Orlando proved the backbone of the Orlando Plan. Jaycees Chairman Clem Brossier called the campaign “primarily a woman’s battle” because housewives purchased food for the family, thereby making them the ones who ensure the donations arrive at the drop-off points. The Women’s Community Council, rallied behind the Orlando Plan with the motto “Buy 2 Cans-Give 1”.

The largest contribution by the women of Orlando occurred in May. George Burke, manager of the Dixie Freeze meat packing company donated two steers. After slaughtering and dressing-down the animals, the amount of beef remaining totaled 601 pounds. On 15 May 1946, women volunteers from the Red Cross, Sorosis Club and other women’s civic groups met at the meat packing plant. Each woman brought her own set of knives, frying pans, aprons, and a lunch. The project started at 9:00 am and ended at 5:00 pm. At the end of the day these women had canned 792 cases of food. Despite the best efforts by the Orlando clubs to reach the goal of five boxcars of food, Orlando citizens lagged in their efforts to keep the plan going. On 21 May the Jaycees announced the end of the Orlando Plan. They called for one last effort which would last for one week. Their goal was to fill three boxcars of food.

At this same time reports from the UN told the Jaycees that wheat supplies to the Volos were about to be cut. The UN was providing 1,100 calories per day for each citizen of Volos, but they were unable sustain this amount.  According to the report “Volos is on the edge of starvation and to survive immediate assistance must be forthcoming from an outside source.”  UNRRA Director in Volos Nicholas G. Trayfors said that 80% of the children and a large number of adults suffered from malnutrition. He estimated that the citizens of Volos needed 5,100 tons of food monthly and that the April, May and June wheat shipments would fall short of the actual need by 40%.

This news inspired a renewal from civic organizations to keep the Plan going through the first week of June. The last fundraiser for Volos took place in June with a benefit baseball game. The two teams were the league-leading Orlando Senators and the Daytona Beach Islanders. Volos Night at Tinker Field was an overwhelming success. 300 advanced seats were sold at the price of $1 per regular seat and $1.50 for box seats. In addition to fans paying, all players and ball park employees had to pay to enter the stadium. After operating costs, all proceeds went to The Orlando Plan.  1,150 fans showed up at rain-soaked Tinker field to watch the Senators defeat the Islanders by a score of 21-4. Business manager John H. Ganzel presented a check for $1,000 to the Jaycees Volos Fund.

With the end of the baseball game The Orlando Plan came to an end,and the food was shipped; but, it was not until September 1947 that the official calculations of the food drive were available. Orlando residents had collected a total of 45,726 pounds of food for Volos. It is estimated that 60,000 people were saved from starvation by the Orlando Plan. Using the food collected by Orlando residents, the UN set up soup kitchens in several areas of Volos providing one meal per day from June-August 1946. Families that had been living on bread and olives, were now getting fish, sweet milk, and canned vegetables.

At the end of the baseball game which was the end of the Orlando Plan, Orlando residents returned to their daily lives, many with no concept of how their efforts helped save the citizens of Volos. The Orlando Morning Sentinel ended all news reports from Greece on the last day of the Orlando Plan; however Greek newspapers hailed the Orlando Plan as did individual letters from villagers and organizations in Greece..

Letters from thankful villagers began arriving as early as June 1946. Mrs. Kadina Toursovga wrote that her family had been living in a cave outside the city- their home having been destroyed  by Nazi’s in 1941. They had not eaten any meat and very few vegetables since 1943. She writes “Without the kindness of the people of Orlando my family certainly would have perished.” John T. Potessaros wrote that his wife had lost 60 pounds since the Nazi occupation. At the time of the letter she weighed 95 pounds. He writes that she was depressed, and had not eaten in many days; however, news that food had arrived from America lifted her spirits. Since June she had gained 10 pounds. A letter from an orphanage in Volos said that the money raised by the baseball game had gone to repair their building that had been hit by Nazi artillery, as well as to purchase blankets for the children. One of the orphans Paros Kammenos, who had lost his family to disease and starvation enclosed a personal statement thanking the citizens of Orlando for their efforts.

Another letter came from the The Union Agents of Insurance Companies Operating in Volos and Thessaly. This letter thanked the citizens of Orlando, and my grandfather, specifically, for their work on the Orlando Plan:

Dear Sir,
 The Union of Agents of Insurance Companies operating in Volos and Thessaly, on hearing that the civic leaders and that several other organizations and committees have adopted that Volos be supplied with  foodstuffs for a period of three months, we know that you have played an important and serious part in this kind resolution for which we wish to express our thanks heartily.
We also wish to express our grateful thanks to your kind wife, too, for her assistance in the whole thing.
We feel obliged to say [to] you that such resolutions honour not only the citizens of the city of Orlando but all Americans too because, only in the soul of the brave American people could spring out so brilliant a conception for which we must  repeat, we will be grateful forever.
We beg of you, Dear Sir, to interpret to the kindhearted inhabitants of Orlando, that the gratitude we feel towards them for their noble gesture and their resolution that they are going to realize, will be very great indeed.
. . . Our Union pray to Heaven to bless You, the choiced Child of Pelion, and your family, and to shower down upon you all the joys and happiness of life.

In 2016 the newspaper Volos Now  wrote an article entitled Pelion, . . . The Benefactor about the Orlando Plan in which they stated:

 “Somewhere I read that circumstances give birth to heroes. This country (Greece) produces "heroes" with such frantic pace that is impossible to remember and honor them all. We forget one group to give space to the next. But something tells me that this time the circumstances (The Orlando Plan)  require not looking at the effigies of bronze busts of human beings, but it requires us to look at our love for this country. It is sometimes that the title of the article takes another meaning. It tells us something else, something deeper. It all depends on how you ask, how you use the syntax, the order of the words … So, instead of the title Pelion, . . . the Benefactor, I use Citizens of Orlando, We Lived.”

Bibliography

Letters: The Private Papers of John P. Camichos

“The Orlando Morning Sentinel,” 25 April 1946-2 June 1946

“Pelion The Benefactor,” VolosNow.gr

φωτογραφικό υλικό αντλήθηκε από http://www.elculture.gr/blog/article/sxedio-orlando/

Σχόλια

  1. Ένας άγνωστος ευεργέτης του Βόλου
    http://www.taxydromos.gr/%CE%A4%CE%BF%CF%80%CE%B9%CE%BA%CE%AC/202462-enas-agnwstos-eyergeths-toy-boloy.html

    My name is Lisa Camichos, and I am interested in teaching in Greece.
    http://volosgr.wixsite.com/camichos

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