ASTORIA – The Hellenic Relief Foundation (HRF) filled the Stathakion Center with music and fellowship for its 2nd anniversary Vasilopita- Boite Night on January 31.
On January 19, 2012 the grass roots effort initiated by a small team of people obtained its charter from the State of New York as a nonprofit organization and two years later the Stathakion overflowed with people who wanted to honor and contribute to their efforts.
Decorated with pictures from the music scene Greece in the 1970s and posters of famed Astoria venues like the Boite Mikrokosmos, the hall was filled with people reminisced about the past as they enjoyed a delightful and meaningful evening that raised funds for Greece’s neediest.
Six very long tables, the full length of the center’s lower hall – there was simply no room for more, although there was a waiting list – were filled with people enjoying the food prepared by Peter Zervas and other volunteers.
The scene reminded the younger guests of vintage photos New York’s Greek-American community, when hundreds gathered to celebrate or support noble causes like Greek war relief.
Board member Stellios Taketzis estimated that 250 people attended and that $10,000 was raised from tickets and contributions from donors.
The coordinators of the musical program, who based it on some of the favorite songs of the musicians, included Tasos Papaioannou, Eleni Andreou, Makaria Psilitelli Kazakos, and Grigoris Maninakis, who also delighted his fans with his warm, rich voice in songs like “Omorfi Poli – Beautiful City.”
Among the singers who joined Maninakis were Aphrodite Daniel, who presentations a beautiful rendition of the poignant “Vale Kalo Piato Sto Trapezi – Place a Good Plate on the Table,” Tasos Papaioannou, Anna Eliopoulos, Yanna Katsageorgi, Alexandra Skendrou, Eleni Andreou,Elias Makrynos, Nikitas Tampakis, Elena Toumaras and Stavroula Traitses.
Glafkos Konemetniotis thrilled the guests on piano, as did Megan Gould on violin and baglama and Kostas Psarros on bouzouki and guitar.
Among the highlights were Katsageorgi and Skendrou’s beautiful duet “Horepsan T’ Aspra Poulia – The White Birds Danced” by Stavros Xarhakos, and Maninakis singing Theodorkis’ “Strata ti Strata” with Nikos Gatsos’ shattering lyrics “Fevgoun ta niata san astrapi – Youth passes like a flash of lighting.”
The evening began with greetings from Taketzis. He said “I don’t want to call it a celebration because it is something that came out of a need.” He said he hopes conditions in Greece will not make such endeavors necessary for too long.
The Vasilopita was cut by the coordinator HRF’s volunteers in Greece, Maria Siourdi and awards of Appreciation where then given to supportive groups including the Greek American Homeowners Association, the Church of the Archangel Michael of Port Washington, Investors Bank and Mega Brokerage.
The concert began after brief video clips of HRF’s recent Christmastime food deliveries.
Dr. Nicholas Mezitis, told TNH that the Foundation has become acknowledged in the field of Greek relief both in the Greek-American community and in Greece among people who have the means to help but were not confident in the organizations in Greece.
“They found that the way we do things with transparency, discipline and volunteerism,” attractive, he said.
More than 12,000 packages have been distributed by HRF throughout Greece totaling 130 tons of staple foods and household necessities. They are now making plans for storage facilities in Athens and Thessaloniki.
Mezitis noted that Siourdi, who works with the Foundation’s representatives who travel there, is the point person in Greece. She can call upon a network of volunteers and has access to lists of people in need.
“Our effort has borne fruit over two years. We believe we have set an example and will draw in others individuals and groups. They have worked with groups such as the Athenians’ Society and societies with roots in Corfu, Nafpaktos, Kalavryta, and Patras.
“Other groups of course may want to do a similar effort entirely independently,” he said, and noted other organizations have picked up on their model of transparency and not having any administrative expenses so that all the money raised goes to families in need. “The board of directors covers their own expenses,” Mezitis said.
Mezitis feels strongly that their grass roots approach, avoiding top-heavy structures, is best for this kind of endeavor. “We don’t have presidents and vice presidents. We have a secretary who takes minutes at our meetings and we have a treasurer. Everyone is assigned tasks and that’s what they do,” he said.
In addition to Mezitis and Taketzis the members of the Board include: Dinos Avlonitis, Stephen E. Ferranti, Georgia Filiotis, Dr. Nicholas Mezitis, Demetris Tsatis, Fotis Tsatis, Mary Vasilakou, Philip Vogiatzoglou-Vogis, John Zervas, and Prokopis Zervas.
“We put out the message that in these times of crisis the people of Greece are coming together and all the good elements of the Greek character come forth – there is a silver lining in each cloud – and we hope we are able to make a difference so that the people do not reach extreme situations,” Mezitis said.
Maninakis told TNH he was proud of all the musicians, who volunteered their services, but as always was thrilled to present second and third-generation Greek-Americans.
Dino Rallis said “It was an exceptional night thanks to the organizers. Everybody on the stage was superb.” The purpose was “to help our people in Greece and I congratulate the HRF and whoever didn’t come missed out,” he said.
George Alexiou was thrilled. “I didn’t want to leave. It was so beautiful– congratulations to everyone,” he said, adding that the event showed the people have embraced the HRF’s mission.
“This was a special night. It’s something that was missing in the community but it filled us with joy and satisfaction. We were able enjoy good music and had the opportunity to help people in need,” Avlonitis said.