“I’m proud to be Greek American,” said James Xanthos, 47, parish council president of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Resurrection in Brookville. “Our Greek roots mean everything to us — our religion, our language, our traditions and customs.”
It also means community, which was evident last Saturday, when church members gathered for a spin fundraiser at Soul Cycle in Roslyn Heights. The event was held with the Hellenic Relief Foundation, with the proceeds destined to help provide a traditional Easter meal for more than 800 families in Greece who have been impacted by that country’s devastating economic crisis.
“I often fundraise for administrative and infrastructure things like a leaky ceiling,” said the Rev. Andreas Vithoulkas, 47, of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Resurrection, who led participants through the spin challenge, “so it’s nice to do stuff like this that can make a difference in a family’s life.”
Vithoulkas admitted he had some doubts when the Parish Council first approached him with the idea. “They said, ‘We’re going to raise $80,000,’ and I thought, there’s no way we’re going to raise that.”
But it turned out he didn’t have to worry, because the church community came together in a big way. On Saturday the lobby at Spin Cycle was buzzing with laughter, enthusiasm and plenty of people speaking Greek. The 50 people, ages 18 to 60, who had signed up to take the challenge had secured a slew of sponsors who committed to contributing to the cause.
Sam Panageas, 49, a parish council member from Locust Valley, works in Manhattan as a general contractor. “I spoke to lots of my friends, clients and subcontractors, and personally I’ve gotten $12,600,” he said. “I felt the need and obligation and honor to do this.”
That sense of commitment to their Greek compatriots was a sentiment expressed again and again.
“I’m first generation, and a lot of members of my immediate family still live there,” said Bette Efthymion, 48, from Mineola. “We have a strong connection to both countries.”
Anne Alexandrou, 52, of Roslyn Heights, said she is proud of her Greek community, faith and heritage. “Community means coming together for a good cause to help those less fortunate,” Alexandrou explained, “and provide camaraderie.”
Kostas Zachariadis, of the Hellenic Relief Foundation said he was proud of those who agreed to participate. ““This is magnificent,” he said. “These people don’t have to do this, but they’re doing it. God bless them.”
The Hellenic Relief Foundation is a nonprofit that has been providing support in Greece since 2011, when the country’s economic crisis was spiraling out of control. Unemployment and taxes shot up, and many people found themselves struggling to feed their families as the government enacted austerity measures.
“We’re trying to help families that need help. They’re normal, everyday people who have nothing to do with what’s going on,” said Zachariadis. “Every single dollar we raise goes to food.” In fact, members will fly to Greece on their own dime so they can distribute the Easter meals.
In Greece it’s a tradition to have lamb for Easter, Zachariadis added, so the goal is to buy lamb for 840 families in 12 different cities, including Athens.
Although she wasn’t spinning, parishioner Zefy Christopoulos, 64, was there to show her support. “Quite a few of us go to Greece every summer, and we see how the economic crisis has taken a terrible toll,” she said. “Families and seniors line up from 10 in the morning outside churches and fellowship halls to receive their one meal a day. So the parish is proud to participate in this great humanitarian effort.”
Christopoulos said she would be in Greece on Holy Thursday with the Hellenic Relief Fund to help distribute the food.
Vithoulkas said he couldn’t have been happier with the outcome of the fundraiser. “The event was great, everybody had great energy and were really happy to do something to help and contribute to a good cause,” he said.
And when the final tally came in on Sunday morning, the parish had even more reason to be happy. It had reached its $80,000 goal. “To God be the glory,” said Christopoulos when she heard the news.
For Vithoulkas, the successful fundraiser signified a greater truth. “Community is the biggest part of what we do,” he said. “It keeps us together, and helping others who are less fortunate keeps us going. It’s about establishing a sense of belonging. We’re all connected through common humanity, and we receive so much when we help others.”