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Nothing Will Stop Local Couple From Feeding the Hungry on Christmas

In a true example of the Christmas spirit, the Oak Lawn restaurant will once again be looking out for those in need.

Stepping into Big Pappa’s Gyros in Oak Lawn is like stepping into a little bit of Christmas, with delectable smells in the background.

The Christmas wonderland features Santa and Mrs. Claus, Frosty the Snowman, dreamy icicle lights and presents under a brightly lit Christmas tree back in the corner.

The presents aren’t there for owners and partners Sandi Digangi and Eddie Memishi or their family members. The gifts will go to children who could use a little Christmas this year.

Keeping up with their tradition once again, Sandi and Eddie also will be serving the needy and the hungry on Christmas Day. A full dinner will be served to the homeless, unemployed, senior citizens and anyone else finding themselves alone and hungry on Christmas Day.

Word has already spread that the annual Christmas Day feast is a go this year. Phones ring off the hook at Big Pappa’s Gyros and Sandi cheerfully takes down people’s names, addresses and how many turkey dinners they need. The turkey dinners are not only picked up at the restaurant, but delivered to those who can’t get out.

Sandi can’t stand seeing anyone hungry, to her it's a sin. She can usually tell who hasn’t had a meal in a while and feeds them with goodies from her restaurant.

One memory haunts her and reinforces the decision to keep feeding people free of charge. She recalls an incident that took place before she bought the Oak Lawn eatery. 

“A woman and three children were ahead of me in a restaurant," Digangi said. "They ordered three hot dogs, a fry and one coke. The woman was 37 cents short. They took back a hot dog. I was appalled, but I couldn’t say anything because it wasn’t my restaurant. I had a $20 bill on me, so I gave it to her.”

She took the incident to heart. 

“You don’t walk out of here hungry. If I can’t feed someone, that’s a shame,” Sandy said.

Some family members who own restaurants in other nearby suburbs “think I’m out of my mind," Sandi said. “I’d rather be happy and poor.”

“I love seniors!” she added. “My friends are all seniors. I don’t have friends my age. They’re 70 and up.”

It’s this love of older people that also plared a part in keeping the tradition going. She has 15 seniors she calls daily, just to hear their voices and make sure they’re all right.

While she fed 700 people in her first year, this year she expects to double that number. Her retinue of volunteers, including her children Anthony, 17, Michaline, 14, and Nicolette, 11, will return this year.

However, donations of turkeys, toys, gift certificates and cash are still needed. Sandi will be standing by the phone to answer any questions. Individuals can call Big Pappa’s Gyros at (708) 741-4014 to find out more about donations. They can also drop off any donations at the restaurant at 10806 S. Cicero Avenue.

It’s a tiring business feeding that many people and Sandi has an additional challenge this year. She’s fighting cancer.

What started out as cervical cancer has left a mass on her kidneys. The doctors wanted to admit Sandi to the hospital, but she said no, she didn’t have the time. The doctors are keeping an eye on her and she's undergoing chemotherapy treatment. In the meantime she is focused on keeping her diabetes under control. She admits the treatments make her tired.

Family and friends tried to talk Sandi into canceling her Christmas celebration this year and to take her kids somewhere instead. She put it to her children, “Do you want Mom to stay home and have a Christmas meal?”  Their response, “Absolutely not.  It wouldn’t be you.”

“My kids never complain,” Sandi said. “I’ve tried to raise them to give first and get later."

Sandi and her three children have always spent Christmas Day feeding the poor and hungry, even before Sandi bought the restaurant. They visited homeless shelters and food pantries, trying to ease hunger wherever they saw it. Sandi says the tradition also continues The family will celebrate Christmas a few days afterwards.

So the preparation goes on for the annual Christmas dinner feast at Big Pappa’s Gyros. The phones are ringing like caroling bells. Sandi is talking on the phone and Eddie is in the kitchen preparing food for the day. Customers are walking in and out. It’s just another day feeding the hungry.

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Out and About December 07, 2012 at 04:07 PM
Sandi Digangi is a true inspiration to us all. Not only does she do this Christmas drive she also feeds the less fortunate at Thanksgiving. Kudos to Sandi and her family for once again going above and beyond.
Deana Walsh December 07, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Wow what an amazing woman.....god bless her and her family
J December 07, 2012 at 05:09 PM
God Bless you richly for your kindness. I want to volunteer my time on Christmas. I'll be in to the restaurant to talk. Thank You for giving me the opportunity! Judy
Michelle Kreydich December 07, 2012 at 10:20 PM
This story brought a tear to my eye. I will stop by the restaurant to see what items you need. God bless you Sandi and family.
Casey Hogan December 07, 2012 at 10:48 PM
Unbelievable story. Sandi, you make me want to continue to do more for the needy! Very, very inspirational story-kudos to Patch for sharing. I am proud to be part of such an amazing Oak Lawn business community. Happy Holidays to you and your family, Dr. Casey Hogan, Advanced Eye Care Professionals, Oak Lawn
Just Me December 07, 2012 at 10:53 PM
They do this sort of generous act throughout the entire year, not just X-mas and Thanksgiving! If a homeless person walked in today, tomorrow or a year ago, Sandi and Eddie would take care of them. These are truly some of the few that give year round. We need more like these caring folks.
Ann Last December 08, 2012 at 12:41 AM
This is the heart of a true Southsider. Let's all try to help Sandi, even if it's just a few bucks. Who wouldn't want to be part of something so wonderful?
Tina McDermott December 08, 2012 at 07:28 AM
If everyone had just a dash of your recipe of generosity, kindness, compassion and love for people, the world truly would be a better place! God Bless you and your family and give you the strength, Sandi, to fight your cancer as you selflessly help others! Merry Christmas! Thanks for sharing Patch - it should be an inspiration to us all!
Michelle Kreydich December 09, 2012 at 03:11 AM
I talked to Sandi today. She said she could use gift certificates to Food For Less and to Sports Authority (she likes to give gift cards to the teens in need). Lets all see if we can contribute a little during this holiday season.
Gregory December 09, 2012 at 07:49 PM
An example world wide! What an incredible generous thing they do, and what a terrific family they appear to be. If only our world had more people like this, what a wonderful world it would be.
L. Stuck December 09, 2012 at 10:53 PM
How do they afford to feed so many?
Joyce A. Trzaska December 10, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Sandi, You are such an Angel!!! May God watch over you for always!! Do take care Of yourself, Sandi, the world is a better place because of you & your beautiful family. Joyce
Jane Cluesman December 10, 2012 at 01:47 PM
She can afford to keep feeding the needy because God is on her side!! With Him anything is possible. Praying for a speedy recovery for your health. What a lesson you are teaching your children!! Merry Christmas to you and your family !
Madeline McCalip December 10, 2012 at 07:19 PM
We need to surround ourselves with wonderful, inspirational stories like this. Thank you Patch! Well done!
Mary Kay Barton December 10, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Real Life Angels come in all shapes and sizes, One of which is Sandi.
Timothy Dugan December 26, 2012 at 05:40 PM
I wanted to give a great round of applause to Sandi and Eddie for what they did yesterday. Also kuddos to the Zamaski brothers for their organizational skills,getting everyone moving in the same direction. I volunteered with the many others and I will again next year. Thanks for allowing me to help out.
Timothy Dugan December 26, 2012 at 05:44 PM
My mistake--the Zawaski brothers

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