Athena Giassakis, an 8-year-old cancer survivor from Ronkonkoma, snuck chocolate scraps from the counter as Queens chocolatier Mark Libertini showed her how to mold chocolate Easter bunnies.
“When you’re making chocolate, it’s OK to make a mess,” said Libertini.
Libertini and his wife Rachel Kellner, co-owners of Aigner Chocolates in Forest Hills, volunteered their shop and merchandise on Tuesday to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS). Libertini gave Giassakis a chocolate-making lesson to help celebrate her 5-year anniversary of remission, which she will reach this summer.
In addition, the couple will raffle off Harvey, a 3-foot-tall chocolate Easter bunny, and match the proceeds from the raffle tickets and donate them to LLS.
The store has partnered with LLS since Blood Cancer Awareness Month last September, during which they donated chocolates they fashioned to resemble the organization’s logo.
LLS’s fight against blood cancer extends beyond research. The Giassakis family is a part of a program that provides education programs, community events and financial assistance to the families of cancer patients.
“When Athena was diagnosed, we hadn’t known anybody that had cancer. So for us it was a form of resources and information,” said Athena’s mother Dana Giassakis. “When parents are getting thrown into the course of treatment with leukemia, they throw medicine names at you, and you’re still numb over the fact that your child is sick, so you get very overwhelmed.”
It was more than just the association with LLS that brought the Giassakis family together with Aigner Chocolates though.
For Athena, chocolate stopped her from being overwhelmed during her battle against Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. As a result she cultivated a taste for what she referred to as “bougie chocolate.”
She’s not alone, according to Bridget Mantello, the campaign manager for the Long Island LLS chapter.
“A part of the treatment cycle is steroids, which causes kids to crave crazy things,” Mantello said. “Specifically for Athena, and for a lot of kids, that’s chocolate, which can be found to be most comforting.”
Dana Giassakis couldn’t be more grateful for the work of chocolatiers like Libertini, who uses molds and recipes he inherited from the Aigner family, who owned the shop for over three generations before he and his wife took over.
“I will never take for granted up a foiled piece of chocolate again,” Giassakis said.
Aigner Chocolates will be selling raffle tickets for Harvey for $1 each until Easter Sunday, April 21, when they will open to announce the winner.