EDITOR'S NOTE: The photograph accompanying this column, and those for a related Fairfield Citizen report on the Saturday community rally for Sammy Palik, were taken by the Father's Journal author himself -- who sprang to the rescue of the Citizen writer after his camera malfunctioned, because, "It's for Sammy." Also because he would like to continue writing this column. Thanks. Tom. Here's a link to that story and Mr. Lawlor's complete photo gallery: http://bit.ly/1iuN7mW
Saturday in Southport was like being in Bedford Falls, the town in the Frank Capra movie "It's a Wonderful Life." In Saturday's remake, Jimmy Stewart's character -- George Bailey -- was played by Sammy Palik, founder and owner of Sammy's Southport Pizza & Grill.
On April 14, the Pequot Avenue pizza house was gutted by fire. Sammy has insurance and plans to rebuild, but the insurance process is slow and doesn't cover all the expenses. So the community decided to roll up its collective sleeves and give back some of the generosity Sammy has shown since he opened a decade ago.
It was an almost spontaneous rally, loosely organized by the Rev. Laura Whitmore of Southport Congregational Church. "Everyone was just asking, `What can we do?' " she said. Businesses and individuals held a rally in the rain Saturday in the parking lot of the Chase Bank opposite Sammy's. If there were a Christmas tree and everybody were in black and white, you would have sworn it was the final scene of the 1946 film classic.
People came by and put money in a jar, then went up to Sammy and expressed what he meant to them -- often with a tale of how he helped out their groups. Other area businesses donated items to be auctioned off. Some of those donating businesses were local restaurants. Wasn't Sammy a competitor?
Like the outpouring for George Bailey, it was not one-sided. Sammy has been in Southport for 10 years and has been a pillar in the community. Many kids' first job is at Sammy's. He has donated pizza for fundraisers for every local group you can imagine. I was going through a list in my head of just the ones with which I've associated. When a charity needed a sponsor, who was there?
Pequot Library: Sammy
Kayak for a Cure fundraiser: Sammy
Mill Hill School: Sammy
Lego Party fundraiser: Sammy
Church drive-in movie: Sammy
Others include Cub Scouts, Daisies and Brownies. The 10-year list is longer than the space I'm allotted here. Sammy's -- like Bailey's Building and Loan -- is a core community asset.
When my daughter had ice hockey, and then dance, on Thursday nights, we needed a place to eat quickly every week. We would call in our order ahead of time, then eat it there, saving a lot of time. In the brief time we were there, we would see everybody from the area. Our neighbor works in Detroit and flew home every Thursday. If we stayed too late at Sammy's, we would see him come in. He stopped off at Sammy's every week on his way home.
My part in Saturday's rally was to bring a sound system for music and announcements. Friday night, I picked one up from work and started driving home from Stamford. About halfway home, in heavy traffic I realized that I did not have a wireless microphone. I panicked. I would not be able to get back to the office and back to pick up my daughter in time.
So I called the Pequot Library. I often set up the sound system for events in their auditorium. Robin answered the phone. It was 5:30 p.m. "I need to borrow one of your wireless microphones" I explained in a panic.
"The microphones? I don't know if we can loan them out," she said
"It's for the rally they are having for Sammy's," I explained.
"Oh, Sammy's! Hold on," she said, putting me on hold for a moment, then coming back on the line. "Okay. We can do it. We close at 6."
"That may be a little tough," I said. "I am on I-95 in Norwalk on a Friday afternoon."
"Wait a minute," she said, putting me on hold again, then coming back on the line. "Okay I'll stay late. It's for Sammy."
Sammy's is a for-profit business, not a charity. Still, neighbors were donating money. They want to see Sammy's back up as soon as possible. Those microphones were used by vocal groups from two separate high schools that volunteered to perform.
I was talking to a friend at the rally. He runs a business in another town. "If my business were to burn down, would people even notice?" he wondered. "Most people probably wouldn't. It's not retail. Probably the only person to care would be the bulldozer operator hired to knock the rest of the building down."
I didn't hear the ting-a-ling of any bells during the rally, only the nearby rumbling of Metro-North trains, so I don't know if any angels got their wings during it. However, it was every bit as uplifting as "It's a Wonderful Life," only this was in color and 3-D.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.