NEW YORK – Volunteers of all ages joined forces again this year at St. Nicholas in Flushing to distribute traditional Thanksgiving foods to families who are unable to afford them.
On November 20, about 80 people, including many students of the two St. Nicholas schools, the William Spyropoulos Day School and the Stephen and Areti Cherpelis Greek Afternoon School, gathered on the parish premises where they sorted the various food items before distributing them as part of their annual Thanksgiving Food Drive.
Collectively, the community of St. Nicholas distributed food to 125 families in Ridgewood, Long Island City, Corona, and Sunnyside.
These families were chosen by public school counselors who are privy to the sensitive financial information of particular students and their families. The counselors gather this information through a highly confidential process and make recommendations based on their findings.
“This distribution is not based on national origin,” explains St. Nicholas’ presiding priest, Rev. Father Paul Palesty, stressing that most of these families, if not all, are not related to the Greek-American community.
“We, as a Christian parish, must do something to give back to the wider community. But it is not just food distribution. Schools are aware of our activity. It may be, for example, that over the course of the year, we may be approached by a student who may not have a coat for the winter,” says Fr. Palesty.
The former president of the parish council, Larry Hotzoglou, said, “Food is a personal donation by the members of the St. Nicholas community, thus, it doesn’t burden the church’s central funds.”
In fact, the food was so plentiful that it filled six small trucks (rented by the parish council), enough to meet the needs of up to 8 people per family.
“Personally, I have been a part of this effort for the past 20 years; but St. Nicholas started it 40 years ago. It is important to help people who do not have basic things, which we may take for granted. For Christmas, we will be here and we will do exactly the same thing,” said Mr. Hotzoglou.
According to Fr. Palesty, the whole process is, among other things, a real “life lesson” for the young students and GOYA members, who come in contact with another facet of everyday life that, for some, is much more difficult than they could ever imagine.
“This driven youth develops feelings of love and solidarity. At the same time, however, our children understand that things in life are not always as they appear; they can be much more difficult. It’s a good lesson for the kids. They have been telling us that before they got involved with the project, they did not know there was so much need and misery right beside them,” said Fr. Palesty.
The presiding priest of St. Nicholas says it is important that the children have a “personal presence in the process.” He states that the other members of the community “also remain present throughout the process – they don’t just drop off the boxes and leave. Instead, it is important they come in contact with these people in need.”
Finally, it should be noted that any food that was not distributed would be collected by volunteers the following day and would be made available in the public schools.