by Ethan Groothuis
Carver County News
Pizza is usually never the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of a Christmas meal. But with those in need, it is never too late to start.
Mario Cortolezzis, owner of Geneo’s Pizza, has started a pay it forward program for his restaurant for the month of December.
The effort started when several community donations started to pile up.
Inspired by Bon Jovi’s restaurant in Red Bank, New Jersey, Cortolezzis thought that the money would be better served donating pizzas to families in need in the community.
Starting with a Facebook post that reached several thousand people, donations and extra tips explicitly for the pay it forward movement started pouring in. Cortolezzis went off of nominations for struggling families to pick who to help.
So far several people have received pizzas, including some cases like someone who was sick and another who recently lost her job.
“They tell us a story when they nominate,” Cortolezzis said, adding that some were “heartbreaking.”
But Cortolezzis wishes that families who aren’t nominated but still feel like they are in need won’t be embarrassed to reach out and ask for help.
“I don’t think people are going to abuse it,” Cortolezzis said. “They’re not saying ‘hey, I’m hungry – send me pizza.’”
Cortolezzis hopes that the pay it forward model encourages other businesses in the Watertown and Mayer regions to consider similar efforts.
“It’s Christmas and there are a lot of people in the district where money is tight,” Cortolezzis said. “It always feels good to give back — it is like a high.”
The other workers at Geneo’s have been more than willing to participate, including the drivers who don’t receive a tip for the free pizzas, but ask to go anyway.
“[The drivers] will ask ‘is this one of the free ones? Can I take it?’” Cortolezzis said. “Everyone is excited to be a part of this.”
He added that he would love it if paying it forward were the new norm, and is not opposed to continuing the endeavor after Christmas if the fund is still thriving. He also has considered ramping up the idea of people paying for coffee for a random stranger, which has already happened a couple times without prompting.
Those interested in nominating a family can reach out to Geneo’s through their website (http://www.watertowngeneos.com/) or the Facebook page.
The recipients are not told who did the nominating.
One nominated family will also be picked at random for a full, fine dining experience, including new menu items coming in January.
Contact Ethan Groothuis at [email protected]