(WTNH) — A member of a local trio of pizza aficionados is bringing the holiday spirit to those in need and U.S. military veterans through an initiative called Operation St. Nicolas.
Frank Zabski knows what it takes to make a great pizza. It comes with the territory when you’re a member of the “Pizza Gavones”, a YouTube show featuring Zabski and friends Timmy Byrd and Don Cretella.
The show’s a fun way to support local pizzerias. Zabski has the palate and a sixth sense of sorts for detecting those in need. It came in handy when selling Christmas trees at a fundraiser recent for his children’s school in Milford.
“As people would buy Christmas trees, they would give us tips,” Zabski explained. “And what we ended up doing was putting those tips in an envelope and eventually coming up with this idea…We called it Secret Santa Christmas Tree to [give to] someone we felt maybe needed a little boost.”
The reaction of those who were gifted has stayed with Zabski.
“[It’s] something you can’t describe. It’s like seeing your children born, or falling in love for the first time.”
Zabski’s goal was to provide that same emotion for veterans who may also be down on their luck. The son of a Navy man, Zabski said he’s always had a soft spot for those who have served the United States.
“I said ‘hey, what can I do on a small scale that can help these men and women out?'”
What he did was to create “Operation St. Nicholas”. At first, he gifted veterans from the Milford VFW before expanding it to those from the Columbus House in New Haven. Sometimes a Christmas tree, sometimes a wreath and gift cards.
“We’ve transitioned mostly to wreaths and gift cards and gift bags because, unfortunately, a lot of the vets don’t have a place to put the tree,” Zabski said.
Zabski said one reaction from a gift receiver stood out above the rest. It wasn’t from a veteran from the VFW or the Columbus House. It was from the family of a Vietnam vet who received help from Operation St. Nicholas. The vet’s daughter told Zapski her father was a proud man who did not have a good experience in combat or when he returned from the war.
“His wife came over and said to me ‘you have no idea how this made his Christmas,’ recalled Zabski. “He’s a proud man and times were a little tough. That’s the story. That’s why we do it.”