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Donations low for Oak Lawn restaurant’s annual Christmas giveaway

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Updated: January 20, 2014 8:24AM



A woman who spends her Christmas season helping others needs some help.

Each of the past three years, Sandi DiGangi, owner of Big Pappa’s Gyros, 10806 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn, has given away thousands of free Christmas meals — turkey with all the trimmings. She says she’ll do it again next week, even if she has to dip into her savings.

Donations, however, have dried up — she blames lingering hard economic times — leaving DiGangi with about $8,000 to cover, she says.

Some help has been coming in. Notably, the $1,250 Rita Olsen, former president of the Oak Lawn Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Gateway Motel, donated on Wednesday.

Olsen raised the money the old-fashioned way: She leaned on and sweet-talked business owners and anyone she’s met since Friday, when she learned DiGangi’s donations were coming up short. On Tuesday night, while having some Christmas cheer at PD’s Place in Oak Lawn, she gathered another $160 to help DiGangi.

And Olsen says she’s not done.

“I didn’t go for dollars. I told them, ‘Ten bucks for a turkey,’ ” Olsen said Wednesday when she visited Big Pappa’s to present DiGangi with the cash.

All the money goes toward DiGangi’s annual Christmas feast that fed more than 1,839 last year and may hit the 2,000 mark this year.

“How many people are actually doing what Sandi does on Christmas Day? I’m an advocate for the underdogs. Any good cause, I’m there,” Olsen said.

She got a call from a friend who told her about DiGangi’s plight and rose to the occasion.

The $1,250 will buy cranberries, seasonings, broth and sweet and white potatoes, DiGangi said.

“I’m working on the turkeys,” DiGangi said. “Last year, we cooked 72. We have 22 now and we need 50 more.”

The total bill is about $11,000 and she has collected $2,700 so far.

“I always pay $3,000 to $4,000 out of my pocket, which is okay,” DiGangi said.

Asked about borrowing from her retirement money early, she smiled and said, “then I’m going to go to the next people doing this and get help from them.”

Ever since her 5-year-old son, Gary, died in a 1995 house fire, she has preferred to focus on making others’ Christmas Day brighter, not her own.

Her three children get no presents. They’ve worked with her in shelters for the needy. They’ll be helping cook the big feast along with many volunteers.

“My kids understand,” she said.

DiGangi remains “confident” the money she needs will come in.

Olsen said she knows a person willing to donate $500 in toys, but is “working on them so they give $250 in toys and $250 in money.”

“What you’re doing is so great,” Olsen told DiGangi in a booth at the restaurant. “There’s so many people out there, but you have to reach out to them.”



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