EVERETT — Todd Angilly steers his black pickup truck to the Everett Grace Food Pantry on an icy Saturday morning. He is sipping warm lemon echinacea tea to keep his vocal cords warm before singing the national anthem and some Christmas tunes to hundreds of families waiting in a line that snakes all the way through downtown.
Just 4.3 miles from TD Garden, Everett has been hit hard by the pandemic. Families began arriving at 4 a.m., and volunteers later distributed 15 tons of food and 1,000 toys.
The sight of so many needy people lined up with kids shocks Angilly, who once lived here.
“This is eye opening,” says Angilly, 45, adjusting his Boston Bruins mask. “Just to know they have to stand in that line makes me want to get more involved in the future.”
He wants to hug people — it’s his Italian nature, he says — but he can’t because of COVID-19. He can, however, entertain them. He doesn’t show it, but he acknowledges he’s a tad nervous about singing today.
“You always get nervous,” he says.
But this is not as nerve-wracking as in November 2018. The Bruins rushed up to the TD Garden SportsDeck bar, where he was bartending 15 minutes before game time, and told him there was an emergency and he had to sing the national anthem. He nailed it, and has since become the Bruins’ regular national anthem singer.
It’s a totally different atmosphere in Everett. It’s not about grown men putting a puck in the net in a game. This is about putting food on the table to survive.
Angilly, who also works for the Department of Corrections helping inmates find careers after their incarceration, is a sympathetic soul.
“It’s got to be rough,” he says. “You know people are proud. If you have worked your whole life and provided and now you have to shift your focus and go ask somebody for help, that’s a big mental thing. I can’t imagine what that would be like.”
On this day, he removes his mask and gestures for everybody to move back.
“I have to take it off. I’m not going to be as effective with it on,” he says.
He launches into a pitch-perfect, powerful “Star-Spangled Banner,” a Sinatra-style version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and the Italian children’s song “Dominic the Donkey,” complete with hee-haws.
Mothers in fogged-up face shields beam at him and dance. Kids wave at him and sing along.
“I fell in love with Todd the first time I heard him sing,” says volunteer Matt Misci. “His last name is Angilly, and it’s the voice of an angel.”
Irene Cardillo, the pantry’s director, agrees.
“He’s awesome. He came out for all these children,” says Cardillo. “I just love him. I already locked him in to come back for Easter. God only sends me good people.”
Angilly says he gets more than he gives.
“I mean, if it’s going to make somebody smile, why wouldn’t I do something like that? It’s been real fun.”
Angilly is the Pavarotti of the pandemic. He belts out tunes at parades, food pantries, and people’s front lawns, and for hospital workers around the area.
The native of Warwick, R.I., who lives in Lynnfield, loves to make a difference. He was moved to tears last summer when he appeared at Camp Fatima in Gilmanton, N.H., and saw the effect he had on special-needs kids. He told his priest he’s found his calling in life: To use his voice to spread joy.
“When I’m singing or I’m showing up at somebody’s house for 10, 15 minutes, they’re forgetting about everything that’s going on and then we’re all good,” Angilly says. “It’s my little way to do something.”
This all started as a joke last May. Angilly was on the phone with a friend in the Middlesex sheriff’s office who was stressed out about the pandemic.
His friend explained that his wife is a nurse at the Lahey Hospital in Burlington and, with three young boys, they were getting run down with child care issues and the extra threat of COVID that first responders courageously endure.
Angilly blurted out that he was going to give her a lift.
“I’m going to the hospital and stand outside and sing the anthem to her John Cusack style,” he says, a reference to the famous scene in the 1989 movie “Say Anything”, when Cusack stood outside a window and serenaded his girlfriend with a boom box.
Angilly’s friend didn’t say a word.
“He hangs the phone up and I was like, ‘Jeez, I didn’t think that was an insult.’ So I was kind of taken aback. And he calls me back in 10 minutes and said it’s all set. I talked to the director of the hospital and we’re going to do a ride by. But I was like, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. I thought it was just going to be me and him.”
The ensuing Health Heroes Celebration was a massive flashing light caravan, including numerous police cruisers, fire engines, and ambulances from the surrounding area.
“There were even two flyovers,” says Angilly. “We were the first ones to pull in and we stopped and I sang the anthem on a flatbed truck with a DJ.”
Doctors, nurses, and hospital staff ran outside to be serenaded. Others peeked through windows.
“It was really cool,” says Angilly.
More events soon followed. He did a thank-you Zoom call for Mass General Hospital workers, singing the anthem to cheer them up. He rolled through North Reading on Memorial Day for two hours, singing to lift people’s spirits.
Angilly found making the videos easy. He didn’t even have to put on a suit.
“I would just put on a jacket and tie and sing in my shorts and boat shoes.”
Meanwhile, he rooted for the Bruins when they were in the bubble. He missed the Garden, but he got to savor the extra time with his two kids, ages 7 and 9.
Whenever he went out, people recognized him. The kids loved that.
“I was at Santarpios and someone said, ‘Hey, can you sing me the anthem?’ I put down my slice of pepperoni and I stood up and said hi to everybody and belted out the anthem and they went nuts. I mean, what kind of effort is that to get everybody to start screaming and cheering?”
Today is one of those hectic days. He and a DJ will stop at five lucky Bruins season ticket-holders’ homes on a front yard Christmas caroling tour through the suburbs.
How powerful is his voice? During a stop in Braintree, a fan placed his iPhone on a table, leaning it against the speaker to capture the tunes. When he went to retrieve it, it was gone. The vibrations had knocked it into the snow.
Angilly doesn’t miss a trick. He dedicates the anthem to an absent military member, tells Nana on the porch that her hair is wonderful, and encourages the women decked out in Bruins jerseys to dance. Everybody has a smile.
“It’s a fun, unusual, exciting event,” says Sean McDevitt, a season ticket-holder. “It’s been such a [horrible] year. He’s a wonderful entertainer and a great guy. This is great Christmas cheer.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at email@example.com.