Residents’ donations ease 2-year-old’s suffering Pizzeria owner sends over $32K to infant niece in Greece

Two-year-old Mari-Lena Theli is recovering from a bone marrow transplant that she received March 31 in a hospital in Greece, thanks to some friendly strangers in Jersey City who sympathized with the leukemia-stricken tot.

Mari-Lena’s granduncle and grandaunt, Theodore and Christine Papageorgeiou, are the owners of Larry and Joe’s Pizza on Newark Avenue in Jersey City, located across the street from Dickinson High School. The location is near where the Downtown section ends, and where the Journal Square and the Heights sections begin.

Starting in November, the owners put a plastic jar on their store counter with a picture of a smiling Mari-Lena.

They also ran a fundraising breakfast and got donations from local corporations, restaurants, and political officials.

The Jersey City Police Department contributed $9,000, and the Jerramiah T. Healy Charitable Foundation donated $2,500. One restaurant owner brought in $400 in coins and bills.

By March, they had raised a total of $32,300, sending practically all the proceeds to Mari-Lena’s parents to help pay for the medical procedure that would save the young girl’s life.

Relatives had to raise the money as soon as possible, as two potential bone marrow donors were found in Europe for Mari-Lena.

Mari-Lena’s family in Greece raised the rest of the estimated $60,000 that was needed for the lifesaving bone marrow transplant.

If the story sounds familiar, it is because Mari-Lena was the subject of a Dec. 10 Reporter article, “JC pizzeria owners seek $$ for niece with leukemia,” spotlighting her plight and her Jersey City relatives’ fundraising efforts.

“[The Hudson Reporter] was so helpful in getting the word out, and for that I say, ‘Thank you.’ ” Papageorgeiou said.

Recently, Christine Papageorgeiou, along with longtime customer Tony Deluco, spoke about Mari-Lena’s current status and expressed her gratitude to all those who offered assistance during a tough time.

Papageorgeiou said she is still recovering in the same hospital where she received the surgery, having received healthy bone marrow from a German donor. The young girl will have to stay in the hospital until September under doctor’s orders.Mari-Lena’s matter of life and death

In November, Papageorgeiou and her husband found out about the seriousness of Mari-Lena’s condition. The Papageorgeious initially raised about $12,000, including approximately $7,625 raised at a breakfast held at their restaurant on Nov. 26.

Deluco suggested to them that the larger community would be interested, if they went to the media.

Deluco, a local developer with an office two blocks away from the pizzeria, also helped them with the fundraising by allowing his office to be a location where corporate donations could be sent.

The seriousness of leukemia hit Deluco on a personal level recently.

“My girlfriend’s father died recently after battling leukemia on and off for about five years until he succumbed to it,” Deluco said.

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood or bone marrow, which leads to displacing the normal marrow cells with increasing numbers of malignant cells. The result is a lack of blood platelets, which are important in the blood clotting process.

There is no single cause for leukemia, but researchers have strong suspicions about four possible causes: natural or artificial ionizing radiation, certain kinds of chemicals, some viruses, and genetics.

Leukemia is cited by medical experts as one of the most common of childhood cancers. Not enough thanks

Christine Papageorgeiou wrote on several order sheets all the people she wanted to thank.

She started with all her customers, old and new, from all points.

“From Hoboken to Bayonne and from Fairlawn to Tenafly, we have some very good supporters and I want to thank all of them; my family thanks all of them,” Papageorgeiou said. “And Mari-Lena’s parents have no words to thank everyone who gave.”

Deluco said Healy first found out about Mari-Lena’s condition through the Reporter.

Papageorgeiou called Healy a “good mayor and a good man.”

Deluco also said among the more interesting donations he received for Mari-Lena were from contractors, who he said became charitable for the opportunity to do business on Deluco’s future projects.

“After [one contractor] sent $250 to her, he said, ‘Can I get on your bid list?’ and “Oh, by the way, how’s Mari-Lena?'” Deluco said. “I didn’t take offense, because ultimately the goal was to raise money to give that girl a fair shot in life.” For more information on Mari-Lena, call Larry and Joe’s Pizzeria at (201) 656-0073 or the Deluco Organization at (201) 963-0500. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at


© 2000, Newspaper Media Group