BY JESSICA MILITELLO
Members of the Astoria community put on their best poker face for a good cause on June 29 during the third annual “Hold ‘em Tournament” charity poker game held by Maria’s Love Foundation.
The event took place at New York Martial Arts Academy on Broadway and had more than 60 people in attendance. The nonprofit organization raised money toward their mission of helping families pay for the often overwhelming burden of covering medical bills due to life-threatening illness and accidents.
The evening included food, drink and raffle prizes. Family and friends of both Maria’s Love and NYMAA were also in attendance and the event was filled with great energy and friendly competition throughout the tournament.
The organization’s founder, Antri Orfanos, who lost her mother to cancer in 2006, feels compelled to help families in need based on her own personal experience.
“I was young when [my mom] got sick and when she passed away,” said Orfanos. “When I got older my dad told me how insurance wouldn’t cover a lot of treatment because of preexisting conditions. Things would cost like $100,000 and she needed a lot of treatment and surgeries.”
Maria’s Love Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that was started in May 2014. It was named in honor of Orfanos’ mother, Maria Papanikolaou who died in 2006 from melanoma after five years of surgeries and treatments. Orfanos initially became involved with donating to charities like American Cancer Society by participating in its Relay for Life walk-a-thon.
But after teaming up with NYMAA, which is owned by her husband’s family, to do a kick-a-thon to raise money, Orfanos felt inspired to get even more involved by starting her own non-profit. Since then, Maria’s Love has given over $100,000 to families in need through the support of sponsors, donations, and charity events, like the “Hold ‘em Tournament.”
The idea for the event initially came from her husband, James Orfanos, and his friends who thought it would be a fun event with a light-hearted energy. The first charity poker event did so well that they decided to make it a yearly event amongst others, such as a yearly evening gala. Local residents as well as students from NYMAA are loyal supporters of the organization’s poker event.
One of NYMAA’s students, Michael Liu, made sure to support the event especially since the non-profit’s mission resonated with his everyday work.
“I work in healthcare,” said Liu. “So when I heard about Maria’s Love Foundation and what they do, it only made sense to come out and support them.”
Overall the event was an amazing success and Maria’s Love Foundation raised $17,585 by the end of the evening. Aside from raising money for the important mission of helping people in need, Orfanos’ loves the idea of bringing people together in order to make a positive change.
“I like seeing everybody getting together and having a good time,” said Orfanos. “We have a big group of people who support us and it’s nice to see that.”