In the chaos that followed the 1978 Massachusetts blizzard, “Mamma Maria” Gaita baked bread. She tossed dough, watched the loaves rise, and then brought the finished product to families trapped in their homes by the snow, her son Jerry explained.
After Maria died last May, Jerry upheld her charitable legacy.
At his Millis Italian restaurant, Primavera, Gaita and his staff are cooking meals in Maria’s honor during the coronavirus outbreak. People can come in and pick up as many meals as they need for no charge — no questions asked.
“My mother was always telling me and my siblings to do good and help people,” said Gaita. “She was an amazing woman . . . one of a kind.”
Two weeks ago, Primavera’s business dwindled as customers were told to start social distancing. More than 10 upcoming events were canceled, and within days, Governor Baker banned large gatherings and ordered restaurants to switch to takeout only, further cutting Gaita’s profits.
But he didn’t take that as a sign to slow down.
Left with a mountain of ingredients from those now-canceled events, Gaita began whipping up chicken parmesan, beef stroganoff, and meatballs. Servers chopped tomatoes. Cooks roasted vegetables. And trays were filled to the brim with home-cooked food ready to give away to the Millis community.
With the kitchen operating in full swing, restaurant manager Briana Musto hunted for hungry mouths to feed.
“[Gaita] said to call senior centers and schools and to post on Facebook,” she explained. “I thought it wasn’t going to work.”
Of course, it did. Gaita’s kindness provided food security and solace to local nursing homes and struggling families, and the surplus event food disappeared by the middle of last week.
In the days that followed, the regular produce shipments from US Foods kept coming, so more meals could be made. Now, the kitchen staff continually stacks hot care package meals on the front-end table from Wednesday to Sunday when Primavera opens. The meals are rotated regularly to ensure families who rely on the food aren’t bored with the choices, said Gaita.
For the time being, the 30-year-old restaurant is dependent on revenue from takeout orders and donations for care packages. Servers even pooled their tips last week to aid the meal effort, but Gaita wants to use those tips to fund gift cards for employees.
The owner’s actions are no surprise to those who know him well — Gaita comes from a long line of do-gooders.
During World War II, his Italian grandparents fed stationed American soldiers. And in the past few days, his father, “Papa Gaita,” has been forging handmade masks. Jerry Gaita himself opens up his restaurant to senior citizens during the holidays each year.
As the number of coronavirus cases in the state rises, the restaurant’s continued efforts offer a glimmer of hope.
“Without the people coming to take the meals, these things would just sit here,” said Gaita. “You’re doing a service by bringing them to someone — even if that person is yourself or your family.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_. Have you seen or heard about an Act of Kindness? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.