“Ela Sto Trapezi Na Fame”: The Community Table & Charitable Faith at Aghia Paraskevi
by Chris Salboudis
A league of volunteers gather to help the homeless throughout the chilly winter months. Father Louis Nicholas, Gus Constantine, and Homeless Ministry Leaders Demetra Doscas and Anastasia Geotes of Aghia Paraskevi lead a group of volunteers in the township of Huntington, Long Island to provide weekly lunches for the homeless. Aghia Paraskevi is one of several Greek Orthodox Churches in the area participating in Huntington’s Interfaith Homeless Initiative. Over 30 churches, synagogues and community service organizations within the area participate in this program, taking alternate turns in hosting and sponsoring a luncheon.
The goal of this seasonal initiative is to ensure that everyone in Huntington has warm bedding and shelter during the winter months, that they are able to rest and be clean and – most of all – that no one goes hungry. Every year from December through March guests of every race, color, denomination, etc. are welcome by a host of volunteers with a hot dinner; they are given shelter and a warm bed for the evening and the next morning sent off with a hot breakfast in their system as well as a bagged lunch to enjoy later in the day.
For the proper safety of all guests and volunteers, individuals who are identified as needing assistance – whether they are homeless or hungry – are picked up at a central location and briefly screened prior to their arrival at the host site. The process is repeated daily at different host sites so the duties and responsibilities are shared by the various participating institutions within the Huntington community.
This is St. Paraskevi’s 13th year participating in the program; they host the dinner and overnight every other Thursday from December 1st through the long winter months. Gus and Georgia Constantine, the Philoptochos and GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth Association) Ministries of Aghia Paraskevi, and several of the Ministries within the church provide funding and assistance for the dinners, which includes food and cooking supplies, cooking, food service once guests arrive, the purchase of sanitary supplies such as blankets, socks, toothpaste, etc.
This is a truly vast undertaking and would be impossible to achieve without the kind donation of time, energy and good cheer of the many volunteers from each participating organization! “It is a wonderful partnership of many congregations within the community to assist those in need.” says Ministry Leader Demetra Doscas. “St. Paraskevi Greek Orthodox Church has been a member of the Huntington’s Interfaith Homeless Initiative since its inception. Volunteering time for the Homeless Ministry has been a truly rewarding experience. We hope one day to discontinue this ministry when homelessness no longer exists but until then, we will continue the Good Lord’s commandment to love our brothers and sisters as ourselves by providing food, shelter and a listening ear to those in need.”
Gus Constantine, proud grandfather of nine and author of Escaping Cyprus and Escaping Cyprus II: The Final Chapter, has held several positions in his nine years on the Parish Council at Aghia Paraskevi, including President. He and his wife Georgia are very strong supporters of the program and do their best to pitch in as needed, thereby setting a great example for their lovely grandchildren and for many other members of the community. On January 26th Gus’ 11th and 12th grade students from the Sunday class will host a H.I.H.I. luncheon.
When asked what motivates the team of volunteers at Aghia Paraskevi, Gus smiles and explains that no one is doing the work for the fame or the glory, but simply because it is the right thing to do. He says that even though the church space is being renovated this year the church still maintains participation in this valuable effort. “We have lots of volunteers for this program and I’m glad to be a part of it.” he says, “People here have really teamed up – we’re one of many groups participating in the program – and go out to shacks in the woods to find those in need to bring them either here to St. Paraskevi or to one of the other locations hosting this daily effort. We offer them a hot meal and some good rest. We have volunteers buying all the things that are needed, cooking and helping to serve everyone. In the 21st century that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not a day and age where we let strangers into our house easily. The best way to describe what we’re doing here is to think of the Good Samaritan gospel reading… or the reading in Matthew – you know it, ‘Whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers you did for me… when I was hungry you gave me food, and thirsty and needed clothes….’ You know, what those guys did 2000 years ago can be dangerous to try to do today, but it’s also the very basic thing we’re asked to do for others in need. It’s a good example to set for others also.”
All in all, the Huntington’s Interfaith Homeless Initiative is proof to us that even in the hustle and bustle of the twenty-first century people are able and willing to come together as witnesses and propagators of the miracle that this blessed holiday season represents. Working together the team at Aghia Paraskevi instills and revitalizes the sense of hope, honor and basic human dignity in the hearts of those in need, the best way Greeks know how… at the Common Table.
Want to pitch in? Contact Demetra Doscas and Anastasia Geotes, the Homeless Ministry Leaders at Aghia Paraskevi, at 631-261-7272.