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The simple way one American mom helped thousands of refugee children

Cristal Logothetis was working in a refugee camp in Athens last month when she spotted a boy about 10 years old holding a baby in a crowd of
/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Cristal Logothetis was working in a refugee camp in Athens last month when she spotted a boy about 10 years old holding a baby in a crowd of women and girls. At first, he acted aloof and tough — he was clearly assuming the role of the patriarch of the group — but Logothetis knew it would be easier for the boy to transport the baby if he had a baby carrier.

After assuring him that the baby carrier she was offering him was free and showing him how to use it, he dropped his tough guy act: he grabbed Logothetis’s hand and gestured excitedly, asking her to take a selfie of him using the carrier.

“He was really super grateful,” she says. “That was a really nice moment.”

Cristal Munoz-Logothetis (right), the mom who started Carry The Future because she felt like she could no longer look away from the plight of refugees, is pictured with her mother, Coral Martinez Lara.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

This self-described regular California mom had never been involved in anything like this before; a picture in the news changed everything for her. About two months ago, Logothetis, like so many others, saw the picture of Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year-old boy who drowned as his family fled Syria, and she was horrified. That single image moved her to act. Since then, she has led a successful IndieGoGo campaign and founded a nonprofit, Carry the Future, to help displaced Syrians and other refugees. Three weeks ago, she and nine other women flew to Greece and gave out 3,000 baby carriers.

Related: How you can help refugees

“As soon as we started putting those baby carriers on [the refugees] and seeing how grateful people were … it was very empowering,” says Logothetis, who has a 2-year-old son, Leon.

Amy Evans, a Carry the Future volunteer and mother of two from California, shows a mom how to wear her child in a donated carrier. She says, “I’m humbled to be here… I felt absolutely no language barrier and I feel like a tool to help these mothers get to their safe space."Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

How does one go from being a mom and owner of a translation-service business in California to the head of a nonprofit helping people half a world away in just two months? She says: You start small.

More than 9,000 refugees arrive on Greek shores daily, and 30 percent of them are children. Fleeing violence and forced from their homes, some families will walk hundreds of miles to find safety in Europe. Here, Carry The Future volunteers help fit refugees with baby carriers.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

Logothetis noticed that many of the refugees in the news reports carried babies in their arms. As a mother herself, she knew that having a baby carrier would make their trips through Europe much easier, and she thought people might readily donate baby carriers. She decided to collect 100 baby carriers to send to Kos, an island where many refugees stop in their journeys.

A father adjusts his one-month-old daughter in a donated baby carrier. His baby was born in Lebanon, and he said the family was fleeing Syria because it was no longer safe to raise. Even though baby-wearing is not prevalent in Syrian culture, many of the men like to be in charge of carrying the baby, as they have been leading the family through dangerous situations.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

“I was looking for a way to help and had a baby carrier in the garage collecting dust,” she says.

A Syrian family arriving from the Greek islands. Their baby doesn't have socks on. With the winter coming and the refugees only at the beginning of their journeys, frostbite on hands and feet is a big concern for them. Most of their socks are constantly wet which exacerbates the problem.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

After her trip, Logothetis realized that giving baby carriers to displaced Syrian families did more than provide them with physical aid; it also sent those families a clear message from parents in the U.S.

Most of the carriers Carry The Future brought over to Greece were donated and many moms wrote notes of encouragement and attached them to the carrier.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

“Mothers have a strong attachment to baby carriers,” she says. “We were able to provide an emotional link between the parent in the U.S. and that parent in Greece, that Syrian refugee. I think that was ultimately the core of our success and why people were so attracted [to the effort].”

These are some of the thousands of refugee families helped by Carry The Future, a newly formed organization that distributes baby carriers to refugees fleeing war; many will walk hundreds of miles to find safe haven in Europe.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

When her friends and family had helped her collect about 60 baby carriers, media coverage led to even more donations and emails. Strangers began contacting Logothetis and asking how they could help. The next thing she knew, she had thousands of carriers and people willing to fly to Greece to help her distribute them.

An Afghan father in a refugee camp outside of Athens asked Carry the Future reps to teach him how to wear both of his small children.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

“If I hadn’t done this, 5,000 parents would not have baby carriers,” she says. “We all have a responsibility to help out on this planet. Everybody has their own calling and [if] we each embrace it … this would be a much smaller world.”

Anyone who wants to help Logothetis continue her effort can do so by mailing clean, gently used carriers to Carry The Future, 121 W. Lexington Drive, Suite L 106D, Glendale, CA 91203. They can also donate to Carry the Future’s carrier campaign or its Operation Refugee Child, which provides refugee children with care packages including water, flashlights, blankets, and other necessities.

A note of encouragement attached to a donated baby carrier from across the globe.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

There are many other ways to get involved and help the displaced refugee families as well. The Syrian conflict and refugee crisis is so large that numerous organizations are providing a multitude of emergency services. Shannon Scribner, a humanitarian policy manager at Oxfam America, recommends that people reference Interaction to see what organizations provide which services. Oxfam helps with water and sanitation in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon and, like most organizations, it relies on donations to fulfill those needs.

Cristal and her team of volunteers vacuum pack as many carriers as they can and check suitcases onto the plane. This way, the volunteers arrvive with their carriers and nothing is stuck at customs.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

“Financial contributions are usually favorable,” she says. “The cash can be used to buy things locally and help the economy locally.”

Two Afghan mothers were elated when they realized their arms were free.Patrice Poltzer / TODAY

While there are few opportunities for people to volunteer with the refugees overseas, Americans can volunteer to greet Syrian families as they arrive in this country. A group of nonprofits is looking for families to host Syrian families for Thanksgiving. Scribner says this helps people who will likely never return home feel welcome and start to assimilate here.

“You’re inviting them into the home and sharing [a meal],” she says. “It is a unique American tradition.”