At St Gregory’s we are very proud of our local partners, who add huge value to our grants through their care and commitment. Irina Lialina has been involved since before St Gregory’s was formally registered. First she helped distribute aid sent in containers from the UK. Now, she helps the very poorest families with food parcels. This is her story.
At the end of the eighties I was a member of Father Lev Bolshakov’s Christian community. Life was very difficult for us, but it was full of the joy of meeting with God. I was still working as an engineer, but I understood that, having received so much, I ought to give back to others and that this is an essential part of becoming a Christian. In the beginning we used to go to the hospital after work as sisters and brothers of mercy. Then humanitarian aid from Switzerland began to be delivered to our community and together we distributed it. This was before I came across St Gregory’s.
I first met Irina von Schlippe (SGF’s founder) at one of our weekly meetings in the Bolshakov’s flat in 1990. She talked about an unimaginable world, where Metropolitan Anthony lived, and where they were thinking about us and setting up a charity. It all seemed so far away back then! But then Father Lev told me to go to Irina. He said she needed like-minded people.
I have an indelible memory of that first day when Irina said, ‘we want to help people, but not just to feed them, we want to give them a fishing rod. Think about what you can do and come and see me again if you decide to help.’ I remember how I went out onto Nevskii Prospect in absolute shock. Where should I go and who should I be looking for? I didn’t have any connections, just my job and the community. But I wanted to do something! So I went back.
The work has changed a great deal since then. To start with we were all totally broke and we organised workshops where mothers of disabled children and disabled people would sew and knit both for themselves and making items to sell. Back then people would buy it all because there was nothing in the shops, and this gave them money for food. St Gregory’s would send the wool, the fabric and the sewing machines. Since then the situation has constantly changed and we have had to constantly reorganise and be flexible.
The thing I most enjoy about my work is the contact with people, working directly with families and establishing warm, human relationships with them. You see how you can help them normalise their life and not only with material help, but with sympathy, conversation and advice.
I remember many families we have helped through the years well and many of them have become friends. One family I remember had six children and we helped them for 13 years. In the beginning they had just three children, one of which was disabled, and the mother was expecting their fourth. A month ago they came to say thank you for all those years. The oldest son has now finished college, is working and helps them. What’s more, he is studying at the theological academy! They said that they hoped to stay friends, although they don’t need help now.
Your sympathy, love, and interest in us, complete strangers living far away, your care, all those carefully-folded clothes, your help buying food and other essentials have not been for nothing. All the time I talk to people who take any help and support from you just because of this care. It finds a response in the hearts of even the most gloomy people who don’t believe in anything. They say thank you! I think that makes them feel better.