It's another busy day at Piato Cafe, but this day is different. There are more tables, more food, more smiles.
"The food is out of this world," said Mike Tangora. "I really enjoy it."
He and many others make sure they come to Lincoln Square in Urbana every third Thursday. That's because the five dollars you pay for lunch goes to a new charity every month.
Delores Crump said, "I just think this is a really beautiful thing."
The idea started after the restaurant celebrated its fifth anniversary with a buffet. Owner Kelly Jo Lamb remembered people telling her she should do it more often. That wasn't enough for her.
"I was like, how can we benefit other members of the community? This is what we came up with."
The idea was a hit. Charities lined up to take part. Hundreds lined up to eat. This month was for the Senior Transportation program run by Family Services. The money will reimburse volunteers' mileage. Terry Goode is the volunteer manager.
"If we didn't have funds to be able to do that, gas prices today, a lot of our volunteers wouldn't be able to help us out. It's incredible that they're doing this for groups like us and lots of other groups in the community."
The workers may be even more fired up than the non-profit to see the tally.
Lamb said, "They get excited when the day's over and they say 'how much money did we make?' I'm like I haven't gotten that far. Give me a minute!"
It's not easy trying to feed a crowd when you're not even sure how many are coming. They really have to scramble when it's super busy. Lamb will go into the kitchen and see what else they can whip up. The crew is up to it though. They made fifty pizzas, gallons of lemonade, and bins of coleslaw in a few hours. Lamb said she couldn't do it without the team.
"I'm just the mama of the group. Piato is a big family. We all take care of each other."
And one third Thursday, that's exactly what they did.
"I was stunned," said Megan Quigley. "I was completely stunned."
Quigley is the office manager here. She has son with severe autism, mental illness and developmental delays. Therapy and hospital bills were piling up.
"We were on the verge of bankruptcy. We were going to lose everything."
So Lamb decided Quigley needed the help that month. It was their most successful lunch. They made $6000.
Quigley said, "It completely pulled us back from the edge. Thank you doesn't even begin to cover it. I'll never be able to repay the gift she gave me."
But that's what families do, for each other and the community.
"I'm just trying to do my part. That's all," remarked Lamb. "Let's help the people who need to be helped."
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