Dyker Heights

Merriment and munificence at 68th Precinct holiday celebration

December 17, 2018 By Helen Klein Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Soldiers from Fort Hamilton with Col. Andrew Zieseniss, Tom Neve, Fran Vella-Marrone and David Ryan. Eagle photos by Helen Klein

It was an evening of giving as the Dyker Heights Civic Association (DHCA) and the 68th Precinct Community Council celebrated the season together at a party whose culmination was the awarding of stacks of gifts to two worthy causes — Reaching-Out Community Services,which runs a food pantry on New Utrecht Avenue and organizes a pair of holiday events for families in need, and children of the troops at Fort Hamilton Army Base.

The two organizations, which had held a communitywide toy drive over the prior several weeks, gathered at Redeemer St. John’s Lutheran Church, 939 83rd St., on Tues., Dec. 11 for a night of merriment that included performances of seasonal songs by the Dyker Singers and the Guild for Exceptional Children chorus.

Besides the toys, Reaching-Out accepted a $250 donation from the precinct community council; the Guild and Dyker Singers received donations from DHCA.

In addition, Kathy Khatari, a Bay Ridge activist, presented packages of cookies to Col. Andrew Zieseniss, the commanding officer of Fort Hamilton, as part of her Cookies for the Troops collection, which she does in memory of her brother, late Firefighter William Gormley, who died in 2017 of Ground Zero-related cancer, and who had served in the Marines.

“When he was in the service,” Khatari recalled, “I made him cookies. I didn’t have the money for postage so we ate them.” The memory, however, spurred her to begin the drive, now in its second year.

Guild for Exceptional Children Chorus.
Guild for Exceptional Children Chorus.

Zieseniss, when he accepted the toys, told the assembled audience how moved he was by the generosity of the community. “I’ve been here about four months and I’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by your hospitality and support,” he said. “I’ve never been to a community like this. It means a lot to our military community.”

Thomas Neve, the founder and executive director of Reaching-Out, also expressed his appreciation. “We have thousands of families registered,” he said. Given that all funds the organization receives goes toward food, the toys presented to the children at the holidays have to come from elsewhere. “What you do does make a tremendous difference,” he stressed.

In another, moving moment, Fran Vella-Marrone, DHCA’s president, announced that the group’s annual award to graduates in Community School District 20 would be renamed in memory of late education activist Mafalda Dimango, who died earlier this year.

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“She was a stalwart of the community, a wonderful, wonderful person,” Vella-Marrone told the crowd. “She was so concerned with the children of the community and their education. I know she would say, I don’t need an award, but there will be an award in perpetuity in her memory.”

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