Foreign fare abounds at Little Neck’s PS 94

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The hallways of PS 94 in Little Neck were transformed Friday morning from mostly empty corridors to dining halls by a sea of parents, staff and children who crowded around tables laden with homemade dishes for the school's annual International Food Festival.

No one can pinpoint when the International Food Festival, which incorporates the efforts of nearly all the school's parents and staff, got its start. But school staff said the event, which donates leftover food to organizations that feed the homeless, gets bigger each year.

Principal JoAnn Barbeosch said the festival has gone on for at least 10 years, and one parent estimated the event has been held for more than 20.

Susan Sudano, a fourth-grade teacher, said "it just kind of evolved."

Susan Mazzo, a reading and English as a Second Language teacher who acts as the event's staff coordinator, helped organize this year's event.

Mazzo said about 140 parents came to PS 94 Friday morning to help put out the food and clean up afterwards, while staff pitched in to set up tables and teachers directed students in and around the crowds to sample the foods.

"It's a sharing of all the cultures," Mazzo said. "It's just wonderful."

Parents helped make plates and platters of food representative of each family's heritage, from Korean foods like gim bap and buchim gae and Greek cheese puffs called tiroplites, to Irish soda bread, fried chicken, quiche, and fudge.

Incha Kim, a member of School Board 26, said the event was a "kind of cultural education. This is a really beautiful contribution to their futures."

SB 26 member Ruth Lee, who also attended the festival, said "America is eventually going to be an international country. It's a real education - a life education."

Every class in the school, from kindergartners to the fifth graders, participated in the food festival, and Mazzo said nearly every parent donated either food or supplies to the festivities.

"Everybody gives something," she said.

Barbeosch said "in essence it's like six different celebrations - six different feasts" for each of the grades.

Children, Barbeosch said, often see the similarities between the variety of foods at the festival than the differences.

"We really are a very multicultural school," she said. "By doing this the kids get to teach each other about their countries."

Children and parents dressed in costumes representing their ethnic heritage, and one parent sang a song of hello that includes several different languages like French, Spanish, Japanese, English, Swahili, and Hebrew.

Parent Teacher Student Association Co-president Victor Dadras said the festival "is a tradition that really helps us celebrate all the diverse cultures. It connects all the kids together."

Kim said the involvement of parents from different immigrant communities in an event like PS 94's festival was especially important.

"With this kind of occasion many parents can participate," she said. "They work together and become more comfortable. It's a chance for parents to come together."

Mazzo said "without the parents this event would not take place."

In addition to the festival the students also coordinated fund-raising projects for the school to coincide with the annual feast.

During the International Food Festival several children were selling what they called Cozy Comforts, or pillows, that fifth-grade students designed and made as part of a large project that enables each child to take part.

Student Alex Dadras, 10, said the project had already raised about $400, which the fifth grade will be able to use, he said.

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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