ASTORIA – Twenty four years ago the Greek American Homeowners Association of Astoria added a new dimension to the holiday for giving thanks – giving back. On Thanksgiving Day its officers and friends joined with local politicians to welcome the members of the community at large who appreciated the hot Turkey meals and fellowship.
More than 2000 people enjoyed meals that were served at the Association’s headquarters building beneath elevated train tracks on 31st Street or which were delivered to their homes. About 570 turkeys were distributed and 97 wer cooked to be served on premises.
Some 300 families were given vouchers that could be used at certain meat markets in Astoria.
The people who packed the hall were welcomed by George Alexiou, who also thanked the more than 200 volunteers who offered part of their holiday that day or participated in the preparations earlier in the week.
The endeavor was dedicated to the memory of Constantine and Marina Fakiris, Melina Alexiou and Tom Alafogianis.
Alexiou s thanked some of the benefactors, including Nikos Gavalas, Dino Ralis, and George Fakiris, acknowledge the chef, Nick Gabrielatos. George Kitsios, the chairman of the event also welcomed and thanked everyone present.
Alexiou offered a special welcome to the retired speaker of the New York City Council Peter. F. Vallone, Sr. He and his son Peter, F. Vallone Jr., who could not attend but had a delicious cake delivered for the occasion as a thank you for the support of the community, have represented Astoria since 1974.
When Alexiou expressed regret that Vallone, Sr. was not elected governor – “For some reason we lost but we love you” – the latter responded, “I can’t tell you how much I love all of you too, and if there were more Greeks I would have been the governor.”
He praised the Association for making it a happy Thanksgiving for many of its neighbors for so many years.
New York State Senator Michael Gianaris is among the many that can no longer imagine Thanksgiving without first coming to the luncheon. “This is how I’ve started my Thanksgiving for 15 years,” even before he was elected to office. “Thousands of people benefit from their work every year and it’s heartwarming to see because the volunteers give without asking.”
State Senator Joe Peralta, who represents many Greek- and Cypriot Americans in Astoria and Jackson Heights, also congratulated and thanked the Association for its commitment to “giving back” and for providing a forum through the years for the discussion on important community issues.”
He told The National herald “This is the epitome of what organizations should do.”
Alexiou roused the crowd with his enthusiastic salute to Astoria’s City Councilman-elect Costa Constantinides, the first Greek and Cypriot American who will serve in that body: “Costa, leventi , congratulations!”
Constantinides also thanked the organizers, adding “this is really what Thanksgiving is all about. You are grateful for what you have, and you give back to the community to make it better…everyone in the community is what makes it great.”
He also thanked and lauded “the Vallone family, that has served this community with distinction” and will continue to do so as Peter, Jr’s. Constantinides succeeded to the seat of Peter Vallone, who could not run for re-election due to term limits, but his brother Paul Vallone was elected to represent Flushing in the City Council.
Constantinides , who had served as a driver for Turkey dinner deliveries to senior citizens and other shut-ins for many years, told TNH, “there is no other way to spend Thanksgiving than to be here with the homeowners. They do such and amazing job.”
George Iliopoulos, the Consul General of Greece in New York, said thanked the association for an event who whose philanthropic motives make it “one of the greatest that takes place in Astoria, if not in the City.”
Koula Sophianou, Cyprus’ Consul General was present for the food preparation the day before.
Manos Koumbarakis, Greece’s new Consul in New York also, was happy for the opportunity “to send a message of love, mutual support and humanitarianism and noted such endeavors raise the standing of Hellenes in the wider community.”
Simotas agreed, and praised the volunteers for their annual labor of love. She told The National Herald “I think this is one of the most beautiful events Astoria produces. The Association has been doing it for decades and is a reflection of their commitment to the people of Astoria and to those less fortunate, and it is a testament to the Greek sprit we always want to be helpful and appreciative…and it shows to young people how important it is to give back.”
She loves attending and was thrilled that her niece from New Jersey, Dora Katsanos, came to help, and Simotas was happy to be there, even though “my 16 month old daughter wouldn’t let me go. She is home helping with the cooking.”
Anna Bruno, who has helped the community on numerous matters as the president of the 114th Precinct community council, emphasized the importance of events that enable people “to enjoy the holiday with their neighbors and to thank God for all their blessings.”
Kristina Kalenkeridis lives in Astoria and attends the day school of St. Demetrios Cathedral, told TNH she was there because “I just love volunteering. I feel happy when I help others,” which she learned from her parents – her mother is from Ioannina and her father is from Kilkis – who are active in the community’s societies and the Church of St. Catherine.”
Her friend Jimmy Markakis, whose family is from the island of Fourni and also attends St. Catherine’s, likes to volunteer as well.
Numerous residents of HANAC’s senior citizen residences, like Wisheng Jia and her husband also enjoyed the luncheon.