Maspeth family wants you to remember the reason for the season

By Jessica Meditz

For the past 15 years, the Cotoia family has transformed their own little corner of Maspeth into a winter wonderland.

The holiday season is a time when many people become more grateful for what they have, admire the little things in life and make their loved ones feel special through the art of gift giving.

Seventy-five-year-old Maspeth native Angelica Cotoia — better known as “Mrs. Maspeth” or “the bracelet lady,” wakes up and lives her life like this every day, and the holiday season is just another time to shine.

As an Italian and devout Christian, Cotoia is all about giving to others, keeping tradition and being thankful every day for God.

“I’ve been doing the bracelets for about seven years…I buy them and give them out. They have crosses on them,” Cotoia explained. “I give them to everybody, and there are times when people really need to feel God. I’ll pray with them.”

Each year for the past 15 years, Cotoia and her children work hard after the Thanksgiving holiday to transform their little corner of Maspeth, on Caldwell Avenue and 70th Street, into a winter wonderland.

The Cotoia family. Angelica Cotoia is wearing blue.

Her home, easily spotted by its awning adorned with a cursive letter C, is decorated from top to bottom with multi-colored lights, lit-up candy canes at the entrance, a blow-up Santa Claus, snowman and Christmas tree, a wreath and most notably, in the center, a sign that reads “Jesus is the Reason.”

Her daughter, Christina Dimitropoulos, lives across the driveway from her mother on Caldwell Avenue. They embrace their neighborly setting with decorations that connect the two houses in the middle of the driveway.

Passersby are greeted by Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North when they walk by Dimitropoulos’ home.

Dimitropoulos’ home features a 20-foot blow-up statue of Bumble, the Abominable Snowmonster of the North from the Christmas classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” as well as a light-up sign that says “Celebrate Jesus!”

Her daughters, Paula Behling and Graceann Faulkner, and son Joey Cotoia, also live within the circle, taking part in the decorating tradition each year. Her son, Michael Cotoia, lives in Whitestone, but makes a regular appearance at their Sunday night dinners.

Faulkner’s home on 70th St. illuminates the block with Christmas spirit.

All six Cotoia children were born and raised in that original house on Caldwell Avenue, including Freddy Cotoia, who was killed in 2001.

I lost a son, and I remember telling God, ‘Why did you do this to me? How come you did this to me?’ And God, in my spirit, told me, ‘I know how you feel because they killed my son, too,’” Cotoia said. “That took me to a new place…a place where I could deal with this. Now I’m to a point where I celebrate his life, and he is a part of this life — every single day.”

Freddy is a big part of why Cotoia feels it is essential to keep Christ in Christmas, along with her six grandchildren — all named after the Cotoia children — Michael, Joseph, Gracie, Freddy, Christina and Paula.

We believe the gift from God was Jesus. because it opened the door for gates of heaven. He was a true gift, and that’s why people started to give out gifts,” Cotoia said. “It was just to show love, and God is love. There isn’t anything about God, that’s not love.”

The Cotoia family’s outdoor Christmas decorations are their way of giving a gift to the community during the holiday season, making others smile with special sights and kindness.

In the past before COVID, they would hire a man to sit outside the house and play Santa Claus and purchase gifts for local children. Locals would come to celebrate and donate, and those funds were given to charities, including Boston Children’s Hospital to support cancer research.

Cotoia said she would like to bring that level of community engagement back at a future time.

She’s proud to continue living in the community she’s always called home, and treasures her deep familial connections to Maspeth — exemplified by her family’s longtime businesses, such as Occhiogrosso’s Bakery, as well as her son Joey’s business, J. Cotoia Construction Inc., with the blue van that can be spotted all over town.

In fact, family legend has it that in its early days, this newspaper’s earliest editions were printed in the basement of Grosso’s Groceries on Grand Avenue in the ‘40s, which was owned by her grandparents.

“I really believe that my gift from God is not necessarily money, he gives me enough to pay my bills and I do, then I share with others,” Cotoia said. “He gave me children, grandchildren, in-law children and extended family that I can’t be anything more than grateful for.”

Local pols urge Cuomo to sign ‘Fred’s Law’

Fred D’Amico loved spending time at Atlas Park, catching a movie and dining at California Pizza. But the Glendale site was the backdrop of a more solemn occasion on Friday, as elected officials and family members gathered in front of D’Amico’s favorite movie theater to urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill that will bear the late Glendale resident’s name.
“Fred’s Law,” as it will be called if Cuomo enacts the legislation, would require hospitals to allow patients with disabilities to have one caretaker advocate for them in the hospital during a pandemic or other emergency.
On March 27, 2020, Fred D’Amico, who had Asperger’s, was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital on Long Island by his family members. But the D’Amicos were stopped at the door and forced to leave Fred in the hospital, alone.
That was the last time they saw him. Restrictions, imposed as a result of the pandemic, prevented the 30-year-old from having anyone accompany him, despite his inability to communicate. Fred D’Amico passed away from the COVID-19 virus four days later.
“We’ve all heard many stories about COVID, but few are as heartbreaking as the D’Amico’s story, because it’s one that could have been avoided,” said State Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr., who drafted the bill after hearing about Fred’s death.
Addabbo said he was struck by the tenacity of the family and their strength in the wake of their tragedy.
“The family stayed in the parking lot praying and calling the hospital to check on Fred, because that’s what a caring family does,” the senator stressed. “But you know what they were told? That they were calling too much. Really? We have a lot to learn from this COVID crisis and this law will be a start.”
The bill has already passed both the Senate and Assembly with overwhelming support.
“We are here today to respectfully ask the governor, when it gets to his desk, to sign it as soon as possible so we can help those who cannot communicate and advocate for themselves,” Addabbo added.
Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, who sponsored Fred’s Law in the Assembly, said it’s not often that you get the opportunity to bring forth a bill that will change lives.
“This was a no-brainer, not only as an assemblywoman but as a mother,” she said. “It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Pheffer Amato, a former paraprofessional for the Department of Education, said she knows firsthand how important it is for a person with special needs to depend on his or her “person.”
“I’ve had calls from so many parents supporting this bill,” she said. “I’ve had colleagues come up to me one by one to support it, too, and sometimes it’s not easy to get colleagues to support an issue. This was not hard at all.”
“This law makes logical sense,” noted Assemblywoman Jenifer Rakumar. “Research shows that family members can provide information to help health care workers form a medical decision.
“Last March the governor signed an executive order similar to the principle of our bill, which allowed one support person to be in the hospital with a pregnant woman in labor,” she added. “Logic follows that people with special needs need someone also.”
A year after Fred’s death, family members say they still feel the frustration and heartbreak of leaving their loved one alone when he needed them most.
“I will never forget the feeling of trying to call and text and getting no response,” said Fred’s brother, John D’Amico Jr. “We can’t tell you how much we appreciate all of your support.”
Maria D’Amico found it difficult to speak through her tears.
“This bill is going to make the difference so no one has to be alone in the hospital and no family will have to suffer the pain that we are suffering every day,” she said. “Please Governor Cuomo, sign this bill. For every parent, please sign it.”

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