Thursday, September 1, 2011

Giving Back (there is hope)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead

Now that the water has receded, the devastation of Irene is evident. I am dumbstruck by how many people have lost their homes and businesses. It's one of the worst things I've seen in my lifetime.

A large part of my time is spent in Denville. Seeing the main street businesses in the downtown area, namely Broadway and West Main, being so devastated is really horrible. I've been around and gotten information from many of the business owners. Denville Dairy will be coming back! They had flood insurance, so while they will have lots of work to do to clean up and restore, they will stay. This is great news for everyone. Town just wouldn't be the same without them. Prana Yoga will be on their regular schedule, but at St. Francis, until their space is restored. Urban Muse is open once again, and word has it that Mara's and Grassroots will be open soon, too. The hardware store is open, and while they did have some damage, they are back in business. I haven't heard anything from The Second Half, but it's my hope that their damage is minimal. Heck, I live at that place! I am going to get in touch with the owners. The smaller and newer businesses are of concern. Doc's Kitchen got hit pretty hard, Spiess Studios (photography) did too. A Dash of Thyme just opened in July and lost almost everything. And Sweet Expressions was stocked with candy when they got hit, now they have to start from scratch, after cleaning up.

Denville Liquors, which had a note on the door during the last power outage kindly offering "Free ice to those who've lost power" had major damage, including the storefront window that crashed to pieces from the wind gusts that followed the storm. They are kind, loving people who need words of support.

The hardest for me was Sergio & Co. I've been going there for at least 10 years. My son ate his first piece of bread there, while sitting on his father's lap. As he got older and went to nursery school, we made Tuesday afternoons our days to eat at Sergio's. He catered my son's communion (and will cater my son's confirmation, when that day comes). Sergio himself has always been kind to us. When my son was young, Ken or Ginny would give my son cookies for free, to eat after he finished his ziti with marinara. Once Serg even gave me his recipe so that I could make it for my son (it wasn't as good when I made it).

Sergio always donated when he could. He gave to the orphanage in town, to non-profits, and people in need. He listened when he spoke with his customers, and knew the regulars by name. My son, Johnny, was called John Henry, until about third grade. The Sergio's staff are the only folks he will still allow to call him by that name, and they do. They paid attention, and cared about their customers. Everyone who worked there did. The whole staff feels like family to me.

My son, circa summer 2002, on Denville Day.  Here, he's on his dad's lap
eating his first pizza bread, that he pulled off the counter by the register.

Lines, at lunchtime, were always out the door. People would wait and wait for Sergio's food, and no one ever complained. It was worth the wait, and the vibe in there was so positive, and the smell so good, that no one minded being on line. Oh, and the fresh mozzarella! Salted or unsalted, your choice. Heart shaped ravioli at Valentine's Day, chocolate eggs hanging from the ceiling at Easter. My love's favorite sandwich, breaded chicken with roasted peppers, arugula, and Piave cheese on ciabatta bread, was unbeatable. I bought food there and took it to a concert at PNC, so that W and I could have good food while we tailgated. I also picked up sandwiches before we went to see Chris Cornell in the city. I brought ziti with marinara to my son at school, for a hot lunch, a gazillion times (and got chocolate dipped strawberries for him, too, next door at Sweet Expressions) from Sergio's. Whenever I thought he might be coming down with a cold, I'd take him right to Sergio's for a hot meal with extra garlic. I believed that his food was healing, and was the only thing my son would (always) eat at any time. Nothing beat sitting inside the warm space, looking out onto Broadway in the winter time. It offered the comfort of good food and warmth, with the reminder of the cold temperatures outside. It made me much more grateful for the moment.

Today, I saw Sergio, his wife Alyson, and their longtime employees Ginny and Ken at their deli. I almost collapsed. Everything was destroyed. The once warm place that smelled so fabulous and was so happily packed with amazing food had been wiped away by Hurricane Irene. Everyone was working hard doing whatever it is people do in a situation like this. I walked in and asked Alyson if I could help. Could I set up a Save Sergio's fund or something? Her head was obviously a thousand other places, how could she process this. As I was talking, their cousin Fara walked in. I've known her for years, casually, from the gym. After she and Alyson hugged, I mentioned that I wished we could do something, like set up a Save Sergio's fund. Fara said we could, and she could help. She works at a bank, Wells Fargo in Parsippany, and she could set up the fund. Sergio heard, and just humbly shook his head. He was saying that there are so many people who (he believed) were worse off, who've lost their homes and needed help more. His heart is so big that, even then, he was thinking of others. I urged him to let the community that he has helped for so long, help him for a change. I also mentioned that we need him back in town as much as he needs us. He was resistant, but remembered that he has a staff of nine, and a family. Finally, he agreed.

What remains of Sergio's. We need to help.

The account is being set up tomorrow morning, so that anyone who wants to help, can go into any Wells Fargo bank and donate to the Sergio & Co. fund. I am not sure what the exact account name will be (either Sergio & Co. or Save Sergio & Co.), but will comment below this blog with details sometime tomorrow. If you live locally, though, please just go to Wells Fargo on Route 46 in Parsippany to donate. Fara is there, and she will be able to help you get the donation to the right account. Please do this for him. Every dollar counts. My son said he wants to donate money, too. It's all that we can do.

I've also set up a Save Sergio & Co. facebook page. It started as a group at about 4 p.m. today, but there is some weird group thing that makes me personally approve before people can join, and they couldn't share the group on their page. After over 150 requests, I made an open page for people to join, share, post pictures, everything. If you are on facebook, please go to the facebook page to get updates. (Here's the link:

I was thinking about how the PDA project worked and I want to use their idea. Let's leave post it notes on the windows of Sergio's and the other businesses in town who are in the process of cleaning up and rebuilding (Denville Dairy, Sweet Expressions), offering them words of love and support. Have your children draw pictures, write notes, and tape them to the window. Wear your heart on your sleeve, and show the people of Denville that there is hope. Because there is.

Tiffany Palisi is a blogger and freelance writer, who loves big and with her whole heart. She can be contacted at


  1. I want to help, also.

    After seeing the wrath of Hurricane Irene, and what is left of our town, I knew I had to do something. Our friends over at Sergio & Co. Italian Specialties have lost everything. A fund has been created for people to make donations. I wanted to help, too, so I will be selling limited edition prints of this photo that I took of Sergio's last fall, as a fundraiser for Sergio & Co. This has never been printed or sold before. I will be selling 20 signed and numbered prints of this photo, size 8 x 10*, for $40 each, and donating 100% of the money to the Save Sergio & Co. fund.

  2. Project PDA can't live without #7 from Sergio's! Great idea, Tiffany!
    <3 PDA

  3. Awesome. Hope you will get your PDAers on the mission. I certainly will be posting all over Denville!

  4. NEWS! The "Save Sergio & Co." account is open! Go into any Wells Fargo bank and tell them you want to make a deposit in the "Save Sergio & Co." account. If you go to the Parsippany branch (behind Applebee's on Rt 46), they will make a copy of your check, so that Sergio can see who's donating. Any branch can make the deposit. Locally, there are branches in Parsippany & Dover.