Benevolent Banquet at Parkhill Plaza
By Scott Shurtleff
FITCHBURG -- Offering up a banquet to friends and family is a holiday tradition. But offering up a banquet to a hundred neighbors is something unique to Park Hill Pizza manager Dina Nims.
The second annual Christmas Day lunch at the Parkhill Plaza restaurant brought in hungry community members over three sittings yesterday, burgeoning the floor-space of the small pizzeria. Pizza pie was replaced by apple pie on the menu while turkey and fixings, ham and stuffing occupied the ovens before being carved up and served to waiting visitors.
The event is the brainchild of Nims, endorsed by the shop’s owner Nick Batsolakis, and is supported by volunteers at both ends of the schedule.
“Dozens of donations, from local companies and from individuals, supplied us with all we needed to do this,” Nims said. “Including money, gifts, food and toys.”
Because of the limited seating -- about 40 people -- guests were encouraged to schedule a time at noon, 1 p.m. or 2 p.m., including the number of accompanying diners.
More than a dozen volunteers donned aprons or festive-wear to wait tables, seat patrons, and assemble plates full of food and bags full of gifts. Even Adele made a musical appearance as local organist Adele Hausman entertained visitors with holiday tunes.
Santa Claus thought so much of the event he decided to spend his Christmas Day handing out gifts to everyone, adults and children. The pre-arranged roster had details about the family composition, including gender and age of all guests.
“It is really nice to get invited,” said diner Jackie Gendron. “Very good food and they also gave us a gift.”
David Roth, president of Warmer Winters, a non-profit specializing in the creation of hats and mittens to give away to area residents, handed out dozens of hand-knitted garments.
Two uniformed officers from the Fitchburg Police Department greeted guests at the door.
“I will have my family meal later at home,” said Janice Desjean, who waited tables. “But I had some time before that to help out. I believe in giving back.”
As one of nine children, Desjean knew growing up the feeling of seasonal economic hardship. She said: “I can identify with people who are struggling, especially this time of year; and with children.”
Like the dining area, the kitchen was a flurry of organized teamwork as prep-cooks made to order each plate of food based on the selections indicated by individual diners.
Nims’ husband Greg lamented that they could only feed a finite number of people, based on the seating capacity, but may look into a more expansive space for next year.
“It’s a lot of work, before and during the meal,” he said. “But worth every minute of it.”