Feeding Families

How a local restaurant is giving back to those in need

By Susan Baldani

Last spring, Calabria Pizzeria and Restaurant in Livingston marked its 40th anniversary. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, a big celebration just wasn’t possible. Instead, the family who owns the restaurant came up with a way to support and thank their loyal customers.  

“I created the Family Meal at the beginning of the pandemic in order for us to give back to customers,” says Gabriella Ottaiano, one of the general managers. “Plus, we wanted to do something special for our anniversary on April 1. It was only supposed to be for that day, but the demand was so crazy that we decided to continue it.”

It is a true family business: Gabriella is the daughter of Bernardino Ottaiano, who founded the restaurant along with his brother, Giuseppe (Joe) Ottaiano, Sr. His son, Giuseppe Ottaiano, Jr., is the other general manager.

For $39.99, customers who order the Family Meal get a half tray of chicken, a half tray of pasta, a half tray of salad, a whole pizza, a bottle of wine, and homemade Italian desserts. It’s enough food to feed a family of four to six people, says Gabriella.

Since the pandemic started, Calabria has been doing curbside pickup and no-contact delivery. Last fall, the family decided to feed struggling families at no cost.

“There are a lot of people in need who can’t make ends meet, and they’re literally losing their homes,” says Gabriella.

So, on Monday, November 16, she posted on Facebook, in part, “If you are not working/not getting a paycheck/struggling to make ends meet and run out of food or necessities…please don’t let yourself or your kids go to sleep with an empty stomach.”

All people had to do was send her a message at calabrias1@aol.com. In less than a week, the restaurant had fed over 100 families. “No questions asked, we’ll feed your family,” she says. “We’ve been donating the Family Meal.”

In order to continue to help people in need, customers have been buying gift cards to be used to feed more families. “In the beginning, we were just doing it on our own. Many of the gift cards purchased were used to buy 80 families Thanksgiving dinner (a value of $125.00).” They will use the other gift cards once they can’t afford to donate the Family Meals any longer.

“People can call and purchase a gift card which will be used to feed needy people,” says Gabriella. “We keep track of everything and everyone gets a phone confirmation of their gift card.

“There’s a lot of people out there and we need help spreading the word. The more we share, the more we can help people. The response, so far, has been unbelievable.”

If you’re interested in purchasing and donating gift cards, or just getting a delicious meal, go to Calabria Pizzeria and Restaurant’s website at https://calabrianj.com/, or call 973-992-8496. Calabria can also be found on Instagram.

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Coping During COVID

Managing our mental health

By Susan Baldani

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 is having a negative effect on our mental health. Each day is filled with anxiety and stress over what the latest numbers will be and how our lives are going to be affected.

Here to help us navigate this new landscape and give us some tips on coping is Ellen Miller from Starting Point Therapy. Ellen, originally from Grosse Pointe, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in both Michigan and Illinois.

“It’s very rare that I have a session with somebody where COVID doesn’t come up because it’s impacting and touching people at all levels,” she says. “Everything that falls under the umbrella of things that can impact your mental health, COVID has a characteristic of that.”

Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how you’re dealing with uncertainty and stress. Some symptoms of depression, says Ellen, include self-isolation, negative talk, low motivation, and being hard pressed to find the positive in situations.

“It’s tricky, because with COVID, we’re saying to social distance, and not spend time with friends and family. Since staying distant is a symptom of depression, it’s hard to say what came first. For example, are you isolating because of COVID, or are you isolating because you’re feeling depressed or anxious. I would say that if people are feeling it’s hard to get through the day, hard to see the positives, and hard to be productive, it’s something to watch out for.

“However, I make it very clear to my clients that we want to set manageable expectations. We’re in a time of trauma and stress and anxiety, and limited human interactions, which are all things that get in the way of us being our best selves.”

Ellen says to manage expectations, but still be mindful of things that bring you joy, and things you can do that make you feel proud. If your form of self-care is to spend time with family and friends, continue to make that a priority, but in a way that keeps you safe and holds you accountable. So, if that means setting up Zoom meetings, or being able to safely socialize outside with masks, do it.

“If it’s fitness, and you can’t go to your favorite exercise classes, then try doing something like running or a different type of exercise that can still meet that need,” she says.

“Another really good tip for people to carry with them as they navigate COVID is that it’s not an either/or situation. It’s not ‘I’m great, everything is great, and I’m not affected’, or ‘Oh my gosh, this is the worst thing that’s ever happened.’ Yes, it is very challenging, but it’s both.”

Maybe, she says, it’s creating more opportunities for you to spend time with your family, or being grateful that you’re able to work. She wants people to hold on to the entire experience and not feel like they have to oscillate between both extremes, because that will also create a lot of stress.

Something that’s also prevalent, especially with younger people, says Ellen, is COVID guilt if they have either gotten it or have done something to put themselves or others at risk.

“I would say, when people feel guilt, is check your intentions,” she says. “Was your intention to hurt somebody, no, but could you hold yourself more accountable and not put yourself and others at risk, yes.

“It’s interesting to be in this field at this time because the world is a challenging place and mental health issues are definitely on the rise. But, it’s a great time for people to get connected with a mental health professional: it’s much easier to access care because of the availability of virtual sessions and insurance being great with coverage. From my point of view, as a clinician, holding sessions virtually has not made treatment less effective.”

So, don’t hesitate to reach our for support during these trying times.  Help is just a click or phone call away.

Written for Grosse Pointe Lifestyle magazine in Michigan.