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.

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