ASTORIA – For the 26th consecutive year many of Astoria’s neediest and elderly enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal and fellowship thanks to the efforts of the members and officers of the Greek American Homeowners Association and the volunteers they inspire and mobilize.
George Alexiou, one of the founders and past president of the Association, served as Emcee at the annual luncheon, welcoming guests to its headquarters on 31st Street. He introduced the other speakers and took the lead thanking the volunteers.
As always, he reserved a special expression of appreciation for businessman George Fakiris – “Without him we could not have this Thanksgiving celebration.”
And the giving in that spirit continues. Alexiou told TNH “The most touching thing is that people stop me in the street and say ‘here is $500 from me’ – it’s unbelievable.”
Alexiou was happy to tell TNH that 2015 is another record-breaking year of giving. Volunteers delivered 525 Turkeys to needy families and the elderly since Monday of Thanksgiving week “and today we have cooked more than 100 Turkeys,” he said. When asked about the volunteers, he said “we don’t even count any more” – they just show up and are put to work. The organizers are especially proud of the children who help.
Archbishop Demetrios, Very Rev. Nektarios Papazafiropoulos, Dean of St. Demetrios Cathedral, Consul General of Greece Amb. George Iliopoulos, and Greek Consul Manos Koubarakis attended, as they do every year, and praised the organizers.
With the disturbing things happening all over the world, the Greek-Americans of Astoria have much to be thankful for as 2015 draws to a close.
New York State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas praised “groups like this, which put on a fantastic feast that serves so many Turkey dinners and sends more to so many families in need. It’s so important that we continue to help our fellow Americans.”
State Senator Jose Peralta declared “Chronia polla!” in perfect Greek and congratulated everyone involved in the endeavor.
State Senator Michael Gianaris said “this is one of my favorite days of the year. The Association does a phenomenal job bringing everyone together. Thanksgiving is a day that people spend with their families, but in Astoria, this is our family. The volunteers are serving people who perhaps don’t have people to spend the day with.”
City Councilman Costas Constantinides also spotlighted the Astoria tradition of “giving back.” He said “the Association inspires the children and teaches them how to be giving…they make sure their door is open to everyone.”
Association President George Kitsios reflected the spirit of many in the room when he said “we are upset over what is happening in the world, but that does not mean life stops. That is why we try to be a small community example of humanitarianism” in the face the machinations of the world’s leader who seem more bent on actions that can lead to war than to peace.
Reflecting what was on the minds of many there, Kitsios declared, “It should not be permitted that a small group of fanatics can slaughter people, that children should be drowning, and passenger planes to be before the eyes of humanity.”
Numerous guests commented that such humanitarian deficits were not visible at the Association’s home that afternoon. “No, we don’t give up” Kitsios said.
Archbishop Demetrios offered words of encouragement. “People are afraid of war because they see what is happening. They are terrible, horrible, but they are not new.”
He noted that his generation lived through WWII and its aftermath, and other serious happenings, “but we are always ready, we must be alert…and as faithful, we must pray, as the Church does, for peace in the world…but we must always be vigilant and prepared as citizens to help with any effort that reinforces peace,” – including philanthropic endeavors like that of the homeowners.
“Among the causes of evil are poverty, hunger, and injustice, and if we help to reduce these, war will also stop, so we have work to do,” the Archbishop said, and again praised the Association.
The guests also congratulated the Archbishop for being honored by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew with the title “Geron – Most revered elder.”
Former New York City Council Speaker Peter F. Vallone, Sr. also loves celebrating with the Association each year. “You know we are Sicilian, so we are part Greek.”
He told TNH. “What the homeowners have done for so many thousands of people is one of the best gifts you can have…it’s a wonderful way to start your Thanksgiving.”
Eleni Tsagianni was delivering lunches since 8 AM and her friend Marga Vlachos was among those who work with Elpida Alexiou to make sure the list of recipients’ addresses is up to date and that that pickups of donations from restaurants are arranged.
Petros Stathatos, from Cephalonia, is one of the founding members of the Association – he has been a vice president for 28 years – and of the Thanksgiving event, serving as chairman and treasurer for many years. “We began with a handful of volunteers and now we feed more than 500 people. We are getting old but our children and grandchildren will continue our work.”
Among the youth present were Chrysanthi Kolokouris, who attends Francis Lewis High School and has roots in Sparta and Agrinio. She comes with Potoula Lembesis, her grandmother who is an Association Board member. “It’s such a nice experience – you really appreciate Thanksgiving more,” she said.
Her friend Efthimia Sweeney attends Cardozo High School. “My grandmother Efthimia Kyriakos, who is from Kastoria and I are part of the association. Every year there are always new helpers and it’s fun to help her.
The guests were once again entertained on guitar and vocals by Serafim Lazos.
Greece is never from the minds of the attendees. Alexiou said the Association makes contributions continuously to the efforts of the Hellenic Relief Foundation to help needy Greeks.