East Meadow starts a 'new Christmas tradition' with military dinner


This holiday season, the East Meadow community rallied behind a local soldier by starting what he called “a new Christmas tradition.”

Enrique Reyna, 42, who lives in East Meadow and serves in the Army, joined with the Chamber of Commerce and resident activists to host a holiday party for local military personnel on Dec. 21 at the East Meadow Benevolent Hall.

Reyna, who works at a military recruiting center, Army Recruiting Lynbrook, is nearing his 25th year of service in the Army. He was raised in Ulysses, Kan., and joined the Army at age 18 in 1994. Now a sergeant 1st Class, he came to East Meadow a year ago.

Most of Reyna’s service has been on American soil, save for two yearlong tours in Iraq in 2003 and 2005. “I’ve been around everywhere — Hawaii, Texas, Kansas, California . . .,” he said, adding that he has never felt as welcome as he has in East Meadow. “The [number] of people that care in this community is unbelievable,” he said.

Before Reyna and his wife, Jenn, moved to East Meadow, they lived in Shireland, Texas, and he noted that the Lone Star State is known to be “the best place to be if you’re in military.” Last December, Enrique coordinated a toy drive there for misplaced families in which he and his fellow troops made their way throughout the community, filling their rucksacks with donations.

“It was a real success,” he said. “But I haven’t seen anything like here in East Meadow.” In planning the event on Dec. 21, he contacted the chamber and met for coffee with Frank Camarano Jr., its outgoing president, and Richie Krug Jr., a board member and the incoming secretary.

“I’m the old guy already, so we’ve got to show our young guys and our veterans what the community could do for them,” Reyna recalled telling them when he asked if they could help him coordinate a family-friendly community dinner. “Then they took off with it,” he said.

The Benevolent Hall did not hesitate to lend Reyna its space, he said. Camarano reached out to Ross Schiller, 46, of East Meadow, to play Santa Claus, and, despite the fact that he is a practicing Jew, Schiller accepted. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I was really taken aback because it’s something I’ve never done before. We didn’t have Santas in my temple.”

The event also featured food, toys for children, raffle prizes and entertainment provided by a number of East Meadow residents and businesses, including Pietro’s Pizzeria, Borelli’s Restaurant and Frantoni’s Pizzeria. Local Cub Scout troops attended as well, to show their support for the military.

“It was unbelievable for the community to help, without second-guessing who I am,” Reyna said. “They were immediately accepting.”

He is hoping to retire from the military this fall, after which he plans to move to Monterey, Mexico, where he has family. But he said he intended for his Christmas event to be a tradition, and he had faith that the East Meadow community would host it again next year.

“We try to do a lot for the community,” Reyna said, “and the community, in turn, did a lot for us.”