“Gus and Athena Economopoulos are two of the warmest individuals I have ever had the privilege of meeting. They embody what true community spirit is all about,” said Jay MacDonald, Manager of Supportive Transitional Housing. MacDonald is referring to the kind and heartwarming tradition the Economopoulos family, of Richie’s Family Restaurant, has been providing the Transitional Youth Apartments Program, since 2019.
It began on Bell Let’s Talk Day, when Athena Economopoulos set out a small jar at her husband’s local family restaurant asking patrons to make a donation towards local mental health programming. She had asked one of his staff members, whose mother had helped create a Breast Cancer donation jar, to also create one for mental health. “I always think, you have cancer or a heart problem; you go for treatment,” Athena said, “Why should mental health be any different? It is a health condition and I think that’s how we need to look at it.”
Looking into local organizations supporting mental health, Athena connected with Wendy Sanderson, Senior Fund Development Associate at CMHA Middlesex, to discuss donating the funds to a program at the agency. During the campaign, a restaurant customer had suggested donating the money to a CMHA housing program in the south of London. Wanting to ensure the money had an impact on a few services, the decision was made to split the total between two different programs.
Athena added, “We’ve all been touched by mental health; our family members have been touched by mental health. We have a lot of regulars who come to the restaurant and tell their own personal stories or those of their loved-ones. We’ve been touched by it (mental health) so much.”
During her discussion, Athena thought back to Christmas, knowing it was one of the hardest times of the year for people, and she wanted to do more. She said, “After talking with my husband, Gus; you hear at Christmas and the holidays, restaurants do something at their banquet halls for people. I wanted to help a particular group and so we decided on the (youth transitional apartments) housing program.”
Originally, the Economopoulos’s wanted to host the participants from the youth transitional apartments at the restaurant, however it was too complex logistically, and therefore it was decided that they would deliver a home cooked, traditional Canadian turkey dinner with desserts, to between 20-30 participants of the program. Last year, the Economopoulos’s delivered an Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner during each respective holiday and they will continue this tradition as long as they can.
MacDonald said, “Every seasonal dinner the conversation begins with “what can we do to help,” “you choose the day that works and we will be there.” MacDonald continued, “Perhaps what is most impressive to me is the genuineness of their act. They quickly drop off the food and encourage our participants to eat while it is hot. (They) are not looking for photo opportunities or fanfare of any kind. They are simply driven by the act.” No one actually is aware of the kindness and generosity they provide to the participants during the big holidays, not even their family.
Gus sincerely said, “It is not a big thing; what we do.” However, their small gesture truly means the world to the youth of the CMHA Middlesex program. Many of the youth love the food and most would consider the holiday meal, put on by Richie’s, as their most memorable meal and gathering of 2019.
This year due to the coronavirus and to follow health and safety guidelines outlined by public health professionals and all levels of government, the Economopoulos’s will provide individual meals to the youth. MacDonald said, “This year I am truly overwhelmed at their offer to put together 15 individual meals to our youth to avoid over exposure during our current health crisis.”
The Economopoulos’ and Richie’s has created its own small community, as everyone truly knows each other’s name, and regulars have a place to go to connect with someone. Gus and Athena, through their generosity and big hearts, have graciously extended their community even further.