More than 90 people were fed a free Easter meal after residents began calling the restaurant and buying meals for folks without a paycheck.
One simple act of kindness has had a snowball effect at one downtown Winter Garden restaurant.
Stephen Facella, owner of the Winter Garden Pizza Company, said he received a message from a Seattle resident right after Walt Disney World announced it was temporarily shutting its doors.
“A guest who had come to the restaurant in February reached out and said, ‘Here’s $100; give someone a meal,’” Facella said.
It was intended for Disney employees who suddenly had lost their paychecks.
Then the restaurant posted an Easter dinner special that fed five and told people without a paycheck to let Facella know.
“(The Seattle resident) reached back out and said, ‘We want to order five dinners for people,’” he said.
Soon, the restaurant was fielding more calls from people wanting to donate.
“It’s begun a chain reaction of positivity,” Facella said. “Someone in North Carolina saw it (on Facebook) and bought three, someone in Titusville bought three, Winter Garden bought some, Orlando bought some. … And that turned into, ‘Hey, we want to buy a meal.’”
“People are saying, ‘I don’t know what I can do; I just need to be helpful’ and ‘I have to do something; what can I do?’”
— Stephen Facella, owner, Winter Garden Pizza Company
Even after Easter had passed, Winter Garden Pizza continued the family meal deal.
“Now, we’re feeding postpartum moms who can’t leave their house with their newborns,” he said. People are just calling and saying, ‘Buy a meal.’ And I suggested The Birth Place with Jennie Joseph.”
Five meal deals have been given to new families at the Winter Garden birthing center.
“We got a message that reads wonderfully: ‘We can’t sew, we can’t cook, but we want to help,’” Facella said. “So, they bought 10 pizzas for the COVID lab at AdventHealth and, today, 10 pizzas for (Orlando Health) South Lake (Hospital).”
Someone in Minnesota saw the restaurant was delivering pizzas to the hospitals and sent a $100 tip for the staff to split.
Facella said the restaurant is providing the meals and pizzas at cost.
“We’re just trying to do good for people,” he said. “It allows us to keep our lights on, and it allows us to pay the staff. Our landlords are working with us.”
The Winter Garden Pizza Company didn’t escape the economic effects of the coronavirus, and Facella had to make the difficult decision to let go of more than 30 employees. His staff is down to three people in the kitchen and two answering phones and taking orders.
Facella said his staff has been amazing. Several employees have bought pizzas to be given away. One said she didn’t want gifts for her birthday; she wanted pizza to be purchased for residents.
“The staff feel great that we’re able to do this,” he said. “One thing I keep hearing, … when the community comes up to pick up their food, they’re saying thank you.”
The owner is grateful for a patient community. Because there isn’t a full staff in the kitchen, preparation times have increased.
“We had an hour-and-a-half wait the other day, and the people said, ‘We don’t care. We want a pizza,’” Facella said. “And that’s what’s keeping the staff going.”
He said he will continue to offer the five-person meal deal.
“We don’t want anybody to go without a meal,” he said. “As long as people continue to contribute, we will continue, too.”
Members of the community who want to pay for a meal for someone else can call the restaurant at (407) 877-1930 or send a message on its Facebook page.
Winter Garden Pizza already has a reputation for giving back to the community with its popular Pay it Forward board. The board is hung above the entrance to the kitchen and is full of notes — folks can buy meals intended for specific customers, such as a war veteran or a new mom or a couple celebrating an anniversary.