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Feeding Families

Partnering with local restaurants, the Rotary Club of Ellicottville continues to make a substantial difference
Rotary most recently teamed up with Dina's Restaurant to provide meals for families of Ellicottville Central School.
photo courtesy Dina's Restaurant

The new normal. This is the phrase that we keep hearing, an all-encompassing cliche that’s supposed to make us feel better. Navigating the throes of this global pandemic (to this day, 60+ days in, it’s surreal to type that) hasn’t been easy on anyone. Our national — and local — psyche continues to take a beating as we rumble down this uneasy road. 

In real time, we’re seeing the very best of humanity. Of capitalism. Of generosity. Of society’s innate ability to adapt and conquer any obstacle we face. And while it has hit others harder than some — the medical personnel, the essential workers, the ones who have lost someone — we can take solace in the fact that everyone has been affected in some way. “We’re all in this together” has never rang more true. 

As unemployment skyrockets and businesses continue to shut their doors, the hardships pile up. Schools across the country have stepped up to the challenge, continuing to provide its students with breakfast and lunch. The Rotary Club of Ellicottville stepped in to provide even more. 

“We knew the school was providing breakfast and lunch to the students, and we wanted to take that one step further,” said Rotary member Greg Cappelli. “They deliver breakfast and lunch right to students’ homes, and we inquired if they would be willing to deliver dinners that we provided. They were thrilled with the idea and so it began.” 

Initially, Cappelli approached Villaggio’s Nick Pitillo after seeing the outstanding success of Stock the Freezer (which has donated over 18,000 (!) meals in the western New York area). Pitillo had the firepower to fill the initial 520 meal quota. 

“I was honored when Greg called to help with this initiative to feed the people of my hometown,” Pitillo said. 

The idea soon spread, and Cappelli asked other local restaurants to jump in if they felt they could provide those many dinners. Katy’s and Dina’s were next in line. 

“We couldn’t have said yes fast enough,” Dina’s General Manager James Czora said. “Our chef team, which is incredibly talented, came up with a meal that could be frozen and still maintain the same level of quality one would expect from a Dina’s meal when reheated. They created a shepherd’s pie from scratch. We set up the tables where we could fit 200 plastic to-go containers in a row and started — Henry Ford would have been proud of our assembly line.”

Before the Rotary approached Dina’s to do this, the Ellicottville staple had already donated close to $4,000 to the Ellicottville Food Bank, Great Valley Food Pantry and Trading Post Community Center through its Wednesday night spaghetti meals. 

“It says a lot about the community we live in,” Czora said. “People are going out of their way to make sure the people around them are being taken care of.”

Opportunities like this are two-fold for the restaurants involved. They can feed local families while keeping some of their people employed. When you’re making over 500 dinners a week — prepared or not — that takes some manpower. 

In addition to providing the funds necessary to provide families with dinner, The Rotary Club — celebrating its 20th anniversary — continues to be a significant contributor to the local food banks. With the banks operating at full capacity, they need all of the help they can get. The Rotary obliged. 

“We’ve built up a significant war chest (of funds) in case something like this ever happened,” Cappelli said. “Typically, we provide $250 a quarter. We made a decision we would double that. There’s a lot of strain on the pantries as we go further into the crisis, and we wanted to alleviate that strain.”

The Rotary also applied for a $1,000 grant out of the Rotary District, which it was awarded. That money will be given to the pantries on top of what they’re already providing. Significant donations by members of the community have helped immensely. 

“This is what the Rotary is for,” Cappelli said. “To assist our community when they need us most.”

For more information on how to donate to The Rotary’s efforts, visit ellicottvillerotary.com