The Grand Stage Diner became Santa’s village the weekend before Christmas when volunteers set up a drive-through service under a tent adjacent to their restaurant, and handed out hundreds of wrapped toys and Amazon and iTunes gift cards.
Leading the effort was Michelle Debatto, of Levittown, and her husband, Al, who dressed up as Santa Claus. They teamed up with their friends Julie and Rob Dascoli, also of Levittown.
In total, the group bought 500 toys and $1,000 in gift cards. They spent the entire day on Dec. 19 wrappoing the presents and haded them to a line that formed down Hempstead Turnpike on Dec. 20.
They gave the leftover boxes of gifts to Emma Vulpi, who celebrated her 9th birthday on Dec. 16 with her third annual fundraiser for the Child Life Program at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola. This year, Vulpi raised over $2,000 for the nonprofit.
The Debattos have been customers of the diner, on Hempstead Turnpike in East Meadow, for roughly a year. They have become friendly with Tom Argyris, one of its owners. “We’re like family now,” Michelle said.
George Argyris, 43, and his brother Nick, 41, owns the diner with their father. For decades the family managed the Stage Door Delicatessen in Manhattan, which had two locations, but both had closed by 2016.
They opened the Broadway-inspired Grand Stage Diner in February 2019 in what used to be the Empress Diner, which had been in East Meadow for nearly 50 years.