Santa Claus pays visit to military kids


Military families from around the area shared a hot meal Dec. 4 and had a surprise visit from everybody’s favorite man from the North pole. About 30 children, with parents either active duty or currently deployed, spent their Sunday at Borrelli’s restaurant in East Meadow thanks to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

The Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization founded in 1819 that is focused on helping those in need, organized the event. The organization’s creed is “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphans.” The name derives from the types of men who formed the organization.

This is the second year the group held a breakfast for military families or those who live in the Mitchel Manor military housing development in East Meadow. 

“It’s nice for the kids to hang out with other kids who understand,” said Allison Vardakis, of East Meadow. “I think that’s the allure of military housing, and events like this.”

Vardakis brought her daughters, Holly, 9, Sophia, 7, and Olivia, 3, to the breakfast. Her husband, Andrew, has been in the Coast Guard for 10 years, and has currently been deployed since April.

“All of the kids and parents here enjoy this because we don’t have something like this on Long Island for military kids,” Vardakis explained. “In other states you might have a local USO chapter that might have a Christmas event or people will get together and buy Christmas gifts for military kids, but not here.”

The idea came from Vinny Cafiso, the past Noble Grand of the East Meadow Odd Fellows whose son, father, and father-in-law are members of the military. Cafiso who is friends with Frank Borrelli, the owner of Borrelli’s, asked him last year if he could host the breakfast at the well-known local eatery, and Borrelli quickly agreed.

Now, the new Noble Grand Mike Accurso has taken over the breakfast. Accurso joined the Odd Fellows 10 years ago to support his community.

“This is a great way to show appreciation for military kids and their families,” Accurso said. “I love seeing their smiles and interacting with the kids. They always seem so grateful that we’re remembering military families.”

In the past, the Odd Fellows held a Santa visit at Nassau University Medical Center, bringing gift cards. And during the coronavirus pandemic, Santa visited Mitchel Manor, delivering food and gifts to children.

After their stomachs were full of the breakfast spread cooked up by Borrelli, Santa paid a visit and gave each child an age appropriate gift.

Marisa Abroe, who lives in Mitchel Manor and is originally from Miami, brought her two kids Dominic, 8, and Jaxon, 5. Her husband, Bryan, who is in the Coast Guard, has been stationed in Kings Point for almost three years.

“I love it,” Abroe said of the event. “My kids are very much still in the magic of Santa.”

She said that events like the Santa breakfast helps her to show her boys that there are other kids like them. “For me this is all about preserving the innocence of your child and showing them about connecting and having a sense of community,” she explained. “Especially being a military family and we move around and sometimes they feel left out but now we’re here and we’re all here for the same reason.”

For the older kids, the organization has a Dave and Buster’s outing planned for them next week where they will get breakfast, their own cards to play games, and presents.