"It's our favorite pizza place. We love their pizza and they always help out our community, and we want to help them," Elena Ault, 11, said while holding a sign by Pequot Avenue that asked people to stop by a fundraiser across the street from Palik's shuttered business. Elena said her family bought a pizza from Sammy's Southport Pizza & Grill about once a week, and liked it because, "It's everything. It's the sauce. It's the cheese. It's awesome," she said.
Tamberlyn Conopask, who was at the fundraiser with her daughter, Ella, 8, said, "All of us are big Sammy supporters. It's not just the pizza. He's a great, loving guy. He's part of our Southport community."
The fundraiser was held in the parking lot of Chase Bank on Pequot Avenue and featured a silent auction, baked goods sale and music by the Harbor Blues, a group from Greens Farms Academy in Westport, and Out of the Blue, a group from Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
Palik, who opened his pizzeria at 295 Pequot Ave. about 10 years ago, said he was gratified by the turnout and hopes to reopen the pizzeria in about two months. He said he didn't have an amount of money that he hoped would be raised in the event, which was organized by the Rev. Laura Whitmore, associate minister at Southport Congregational Church. "My goal is people come here and show their support. That's it. Believing that they're behind me, it makes me feel good," he said. "What's better than to be loved?"
Palik said he had insurance on the business, but it's not a fast process for a claim to be processed. "I just want to open up and get on with my life. Right now, I'm in the middle," he said. "I'm the person who always likes to work and do something."
Whitmore, whose Facebook post about the fire on April 14 led to the idea for a fundraiser, said Palik has given a lot of free pizzas over the years to Southport groups that held fundraisers and it was time for his generosity to be reciprocated. "If there's some kind of event or function, he's always donating pizza," she said. "It's that natural love he puts out there that makes people respond to him. He's a huge part of Southport Center in the 10 years he's been here."
Dave Sprague of Southport, whose daughter, Jesse, a freshman at Fairfield Ludlowe High School, works at Sammy's, said Palik donated pizzas last month for Boy Scout Troop 98's Pinewood Derby at Pequot Library. "The real reason we came down is because Sammy has been such a charitable person to the community. It's time to pay back, show our support to him," he said.
Sprague said his family also enjoys the pizza at Sammy's. "Best thin-crust pizza in Fairfield County," he said. Jesse, whose job was to answer the phone at Palik's business, agreed. "It kind of set a standard of perfection for every other place I go," she said.
Jesse said she also liked working there. "The environment there is really nice and everybody there is really nice," she said.
While business was good at the baked goods sale, which included brownies, muffins, cookies and cupcakes, the biggest part of Saturday's fundraiser appeared to be a silent auction, where more than 50 items, valued from $25 to $500, were auctioned off.
Joyce Hergenhan of Fairfield, who ran the auction, estimated the total value of items at close to $7,000. She said most of the items, which also could be bought on the spot for the amount listed, were sold after about 90 minutes. "Most of it's gone or there are very good bids on it," she said. The pricier items included a $500 gift certificate from Kasson Jewelers on Pequot Avenue in Southport, a $250 gift certificate from Mitchell's of Westport and a $250 gift certificate from the Total Look of Southport.
Hergenhan said people who bought auction items wrote the checks to Palik and "every single penny goes to Sammy."
"It's a huge tribute to him and the way he's run his business and treated the people of Fairfield," Whitmore said. "He greets every customer with a smile, knows you by name, knows your family, and he's probably the most generous guy I know."
Ruth Frantz of Southport said Palik was one of the few adults that kids in town know. "He's their anchor. He's the iconic representation of Southport to them," she said.
Assistant Fire Chief George Gomola, who was in charge of the response to the fire, said the pizzeria suffered heavy heat and smoke damage, but was optimistic Palik's business would reopen. "He's always putting the needs of others first," Gomola said. "Good things happen to good people. This is just a bump in the road."