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SE Queens residents enjoy food festival

"This is a gathering of Pakistanis, Guyanese, African-Americans, and many other cultures," said Sandra Pope, president of the organization. "Eating is a way to bring people together. We are trying to educate people about community efforts and issues through education, forums and hands-on projects."

She said the not-for-profit organization is working to bring together the communities of southeast Queens, which is one of the most diverse areas in the city. Her hope was that events such as the food festival would empower the residents of southeast Queens to work as a group to help the many different people who live in the area.

"If we don't know who is in our community ... the only way to find out is through grassroots organizing," Pope said. "We need to bring people together so they can learn about each other."

While some of the more than 60 people sat around the room chowing down on a variety of local ethnic specialties, others talked or listened to a man playing traditional Pakistani music.

Some of the specialities served up at the festival were Jamaican Jerk chicken, curried goat, a Haitian stew, South

Asian samosas, sweet potato pudding from the South and a wide assortment of cookies and cakes.

Later in the afternoon the crowd was entertained with cheers and dances by the All-Star Christian Ministry for Youth. The organization for children from ages 8 to 18 - based at Junior High School 231 in Springfield Gardens - tries to keep kids off the street.

Leonard Thomas - known as "Mr. Chicken" - from Jamaica said he prepared food for the event because all the people attending the festival live in the area and need to support each other.

"Everyone can give money, but to show up and give time is more important," he said.

Lucie Duckson-Bramble, a member of the Coalition of Women, who was serving up some of her famous sweet potato pudding, said the point of the event was to get the individuals in Queens' multicultural society to meet, bond and learn from each other.

"This is a grassroots effort to bring people together," she said. "We want to globalize and galvanize the people of the Jamaica community."

Vonetta Lynch, also a member of the Coalition of Women, said the mission of the organization is to bring people together. Events like the food festival help accomplish that goal, she said.

"There is a lot of talent in Queens and this organization allows people of all walks of life - whether black, white, African, Haitian, Indian - to come together as one," she said.

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