Ovelia Psistaria Bar held a special fundraiser along with Astoria-based nonprofit 9 HUGS on Aug. 15 to raise funds for reforestation efforts in Greece, as wildfires continue to ravage parts of the country this summer.
Ovelia’s owner, Chris Giannakas, and 9 HUGS founders Lu Argyris and Christine Koufalis Karanikas all have Greek roots and regularly take part in organizing charity events — so they immediately sprung into action when the wildfires began.
“When the fire first started, I happened to be in Greece. I was very near the fires, so I could actually smell it,” Argyris said.
As soon as Giannakas heard the devastating news, he called Argyris, ready to organize an effort to combat the destruction taking place.
Giannakas and his brother, Peter, with whom he co-owns Ovelia, have been good friends with the 9 HUGS founders for decades. The event was very lively and filled with camaraderie as friends, family and the restaurant’s regulars showed up to support the cause.
At the time when the fires first broke out, Giannakas recalls speaking with his father, who was still in Athens at the time.
“My father was there, and he told me he couldn’t breathe in Athens, and that’s a while away from where the actual fires are,” Giannakas said. “So it was this thing where I think everyone felt like we need to step up and do something.”
The event was a grassroots effort with collective help and participation from neighboring businesses, and included raffle tickets for prizes like a gift card for Bareburger, donated by the fellow Astoria eatery, and music by DJ Elias Drop, who donated his gig money for the event toward the good cause.
“I was in Greece when he called me,” Elias said. “At first we settled on a price and then I was outside actually smelling and breathing in the forest fires. I called him back and told him I have to donate this, because it’s not right if I don’t donate my time.”
With the donations, one tree will be planted for every $25 raised and the group is targeting their reforestation efforts for a small village in Greece that they will be visiting next summer.
The organization expects the campaign to continue for the next year or so in order to raise as much money as possible for the trees, which will help toward restoring the air quality, wildlife and plant life as the fires have been raging since the end of July.
As donations have been pouring in both from the event and from online, donations can still be accepted at 9hugs.org.