‘I Can Give Because the Community Has Been so Good to Me’
By Mina Corpuz
FITCHBURG -- Preparing hundreds of pounds of pasta, thousands of meatballs, and cups of soup is part of the Il Forno’s community meal that is nearly 30 years in the making.
“I want to keep it as a tradition,” said restaurant owner Mike Mohamed. “We do it every single year to be a part of the community and give to the community for one day.”
On Monday, anyone who came to the Airport Road restaurant received a free pasta meal with bread and turkey vegetable soup. People from the city and around the region were all welcome to come.
Mohamed and a team of volunteers expected to plate 3,000 free meals. This was the 28th community meal hosted at the restaurant. He provided ingredients for the feast out of his pocket.
The meal started out as a way to help the homeless during the holiday, Mohamed said. Over the years, it grew to include seniors, families, and anyone in need of a hot meal.
Meal preparation for the pasta, soup, and more were done during the week leading up to the meal.
On Monday around noon, the dining room filled with Christmas tunes performed by keyboard player John Godeck.
Santa Claus rang jingle bells and walked to each table to greet people. Children carried around baskets with apples and oranges and offered fruit.
Florence Volpe and Ann Pacetti of Fitchburg have been coming to Il Forno every year for the pasta meal and to eat at the restaurant throughout the year.
“It’s a local restaurant and (Mohamed) does such a good job hosting this,” Volpe said. “We don’t go out as much as we used to, but we do come here.”
Alice Langford heard about the event through her parents, who used to eat at the restaurant. She came with her partner, Ernie Blasetti, who is 102 years old.
“We enjoy it very much,” the 83-year-old said. “I can’t get over how generous this is. There are a lot of friendly people here and we feel appreciated.”
Some people took home leftovers for family members or friends who couldn’t come to the restaurant.
The holiday meal will be replicated next week at Il Forno’s restaurant in Littleton, Mohamed said, which will be the first time the King Street location has hosted one.
He said the pasta meal is his favorite day of the year and a way to show his appreciation for Fitchburg.
“I can give because the community has been so good to me,” Mohamed said.
Follow Mina on Twitter @mclcorpuz