Putting good deeds and good nutrition first

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A $50,000 pledge from the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation and Chef Maria Loi creates a learning kitchen at The Floating Hospital’s new clinic

Chef Maria Loi, owner of the restaurant Loi Estiatorio in Midtown Manhattan, first heard about The Floating Hospital from her nephew, Kostas Alafoyiannis, the real-estate agent who was key in helping the clinic find the space for its new flagship clinic in Long Island City. Like many New Yorkers, Chef Loi hadn’t heard of TFH, though it’s been on the ground helping needy families since 1866. But once Alafoyiannia told her of its work, she knew she had to help.

“I love that The Floating Hospital is committed to healthcare for all and, moreover, that they consider food and nutrition to be a fundamental element of healthcare,” says Chef Loi, who began her support by hosting fundraisers at her restaurant. “Even though they are one of the oldest community hospitals in New York, they look at the world through progressive eyes, and have done so since they opened their doors.”

Her interest was piqued when she learned that TFH’s health education department uses the clinic waiting rooms as an opportunity to teach patients about nutrition and healthy food choices. She was especially intrigued by the challenges of preparing healthy meals in the limited environments in which patients may find themselves—a shelter, for instance, that may have only a single microwave or a hot plate, or no means of cooking at all.

“We can live without many things in life, but we cannot live without food,” Chef Loi said.

The chef, who hosts a cooking show on PBS, “The Life of Loi,” reached out to her friend, Nick Katsoris, who created the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation, a not-for-profit focused on “good deeds” through community service. Katsoris was inspired to create the foundation after writing his first book in which a lamb named Loukoumi teaches lessons of selflessness, and encourages children to be good community members. Now, nine books later—with recorded versions narrated by such luminaries as Olympia Dukakis and Jennifer Aniston—the foundation has become a worldwide do-good powerhouse, devoted entirely to teaching and encouraging more than 150,000 children and young adults worldwide to undertake good deeds—a philosophy that’s vital to a healthy community and world.

make a difference with loukoumi day collage

Together, Katsoris and Chef Loi pledged $50,000 to be distributed in $10,000 increments over the next five years in order to fund and equip the health education department’s teaching kitchen, which was dedicated in a ceremony this month as the Chef Maria Loi and the Loukoumi Make a Difference Foundation Teaching Kitchen. Not to waste an opportunity to bring children into the fold, Loi and Katsoris, who had already donated cooking appliances to the kitchen, cooked up a great day in partnership with The Floating Hospital—a virtual cooking class to kids in 12 cities. New York participants contributed food for the demonstration plus extra canned goods for the clinic’s patients. In all, 55 children and their families came to the Long Island City ceremony.

“Oct. 23 was the perfect day to do this because it’s our annual Make a Difference Day, but it really took on a life of its own,” Katsoris said. “I’m thrilled to be working with the team at The Floating Hospital to do a nutrition program, to help people living with homelessness, and those patients transferring from treatment to everyday life.”

The newly dedicated teaching kitchen offers family-centric interactive classes such as healthy taste tests that teach about different fruits and veggies, trivia games about food and weekly dedicated cooking lessons.

“Cooking healthy meals doesn’t have to be expensive and good nutrition has been proven to not only benefit a person’s physical health and wellness, but their mental health and wellness too,” Chef Loi said. “It also helps boost a person’s confidence and helps them make better decisions across the board. One small change can make a world of difference.”

“Knowing about your food—what is healthy, where it comes from, what is seasonal, what is delicious to you that you can prepare—and giving someone knowledge empowers them and gives them a sense of control and purpose at a time in their lives when many things are out of their control.”

— Amy Zavatto

Since 1866, The Floating Hospital has been the largest provider of healthcare and education to families living with homelessness. Based in Long Island City, it provides comprehensive primary, dental and behavioral-health services, and health-education to patients living in more than 300 shelters and domestic violence safe houses throughout New York City.

In 2021, The Floating Hospital moved into a new modern main clinic in Long Island City, and continue to support patients in satellite clinics at family homeless shelters and public housing complexes in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx.

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