After a heated election cycle, one restaurateur in Long Island, N.Y. decided he wanted to heal the divide and bring people together-- over free pizza.
Albert’s Pizza in Ronkonkoma started a "pay it forward" program for customers on Jan. 21-- a day after President Trump's inauguration.
Participating locals have been preordering pizzas and writing messages on the box for someone they feel is in need of a special boost, according to Newsday.
“People were so divided. It felt like they wanted to tear each other apart,” Albert's co-owner, Richard Baer, said. “I was sick of the politics, so I just thought, what can I do to bring people together?”
The first pizza was given away by two of Baer’s employees who decided to pay it forward to someone grieving over a death. “To someone who just lost a loved one. Here’s your sign that they’re with you,” they wrote on the box.
A few days later, that pizza was given to a woman who recently lost her mother. When he handed over the free meal, Baer says both he and the woman started crying.
To date, 20 pizzas have been given out to military veterans, police officers, teachers, and nurses. One even went to a man battling Stage 4 cancer.
Baer did make one rule, however. The pizza must send a positive message to the recipient and cannot involve politics.
After customers write a personalized note, the boxes are hung on the restaurant's wall until servers identify a match. The recipient must also take a picture with Baer to post on Facebook.
Michael Slattery, a former special education student at Sachem High School North who now helps coach football, was visiting the pizzeria Wednesday with his father when he was surprised with a free pie set aside just for him.
“To Mike Slats, This one’s on us. Thank you for all you do for our community.” "Slats" is Slattery's nickname.
Slattery returned the favor and paid $15 for the next teacher that came in for a pizza.
“It’s a really incredibly feeling, being able to help other people and being able to share that feeling with others,” Baer said.
According to Newsday, after hearing about the movement, four Albert's Pizzerias, along with Valencia Ravioli in Lynbrook, N.Y., are planning to start pay it forward programs soon.