EAST MANATEE -- When little Isabella Nicole Beardsley died unexpectedly on Aug. 18 at just three-and-a-half-months, the impact on her church, St. Mark Orthodox Christian, on Morgan Johnson Road, was profound.
“Everyone loved her,” said The Rev. John Chudik, who helped set up a permanent memorial corner in the church so the 80 or so church members could always be close to Isabella.
The baby’s sudden death at a Manatee County home day care may have been a case of sudden infant death syndrome or something totally different that authorities, who are still investigating, have yet to discover, family members said.
But whatever the cause of her death, Isabella, who even smiled during her Baptism at St. Mark, is a example of how a church can, and must, help a hurting family get back to the business of living, Chudik said.
Ethnic food from around the world is a force that can lift people up and bring people together, Chudik said. Stuffed cabbage from Europe, gyros and spanikopita from Greece, chevapchichi from Serbia, whether in the process of being made or eaten, has the power to heal, church members said.
So, when it came time for this year’s Fall Food Festival, Isabella’s grandmother, Nadya Golubov, Isabella’s mother, Sunnie Beardsley, Isabella’s 12-year-old sister, Angelique, and other family members got deeply involved.
Golubov could be seen carrying a cooler of stuffed cabbage along with church member Diane Mitrovich for the guests to eat.
Angelique, and her best friend, Anna Marie Albers, both of whom attend State College of Florida’s Collegiate School, were running the bake table at the church and selling Greek Baklava.
Perhaps the diners did not know of Isabella, but their laughter and excitement over the food helped the family, Golubov said.
“The support we have gotten from our church family during this time has been tremendous,” said Sunnie Beardsley, Isabella’s mother, who has been a member of the church since she was 6.
Hundreds of guests dined on gyros, which is lamb and beef grilled and served with tomato, onion and cucumber sauce on a pita.
Others enjoyed spanikopita, which is spinach and feta cheese served in phyllo dough.
There was also the chevapchichi, which is seasoned ground beef, grilled and served with onions on a pita.
During this celebration of life, the church members thought of Isabella, who has, in her tiny corner, her photograph, including her birth announcement, flowers, and a candle stand.
“She is always here,” Chudik said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.