By Jonathan Bissonnette
CENTRAL FALLS – The smallest city in the smallest state showed how big-hearted it is, as hundreds of volunteers came together on Saturday morning to serve a warm breakfast and spread holiday cheer to thousands at the annual Holiday Express breakfast at Veterans Memorial Elementary School.
For Police Maj. Daniela Barzykowski, the function has plenty of family ties. His parents were part of the Central Falls Crime Stoppers in the 1980s and decided to adopt a few families in need and deliver gifts. Over time that number continued to grow to the point where in 2008, they started to serve holiday meals.
“It got so big that now it’s a three-day event,” Barzykowski said. Saturday morning’s breakfast followed a turkey dinner at Central Falls High School Friday night in which guests received a meal and also hats, gloves, and mittens. On Sunday, teams of volunteers were to go door-to-door, delivering gifts to more than 200 families in the community.
“I think it just goes to say how strong this community is,” he said. “Unfortunately you hear a lot of negatives… but if you look around, you have people here that used to be on the police Department and retired and they still come back and engage in this event, you’ve got people from the Fire Department, people from law enforcement, all the teachers from the community, and a lot of youth volunteers.”
The youth volunteers, Barzykowski said, were crucially important because, “these volunteers are going to keep this tradition going after we’re gone. It shows how string this community is.”
Barzykowski estimated that more than 1,400 breakfasts of pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, a hash brown, and a carton of milk would be served Saturday morning. Additionally, children received three books each, a picture with Santa, and a toy.
“This is what the true spirit of Christmas is about. People get lost in the gifts and parties and whatnot, but this is what it’s about, he said. “Giving back to the community, to those less fortunate. We’ve got a family here of 3,000 people coming together.”
Members of the School, police, and Fire Departments, teachers, city officials, and many others all came together to lend a helping hand Saturday.
“The Central Falls Holiday Express team has shown once again, the generosity that fills our community,” said Mayor James A. Diossa. “Every year, they bring the joys of the holidays to families across the city. I can’t thank the team enough for the amount time and effort that they put into planning and running this weekend’s events.”
City Council President Bob Ferri said that the Holiday Express showed the goodness in a close-knit community coming together.
“Wonderful things still happen in the city. There are good-hearted people… I love it, it’s a great time of year,” Ferri said.
One of the good-hearted volunteers in attendance was mount Saint Charles Academy senior Colin Cannata, who started a drive to collect gently-used books, and now in its eitgth year, has collected close to 30,000 books since its inception.
Canatta said his inspiration for the drive was his grandmother, Gen White, a nurse at Veterans Memorial Elementary School. He said that he sees compassion in her and felt that starting the book drive was “such a simple thing to do. I do what I can and I know it makes a difference.”
“That’s the best part. We do it for this day,” Canatta said. “When you see it in action, when you see the smiles, you know it makes a difference for so many people.”
In addition to the breakfast, books, and pictures with Santa Claus, visitors Saturday also could enter to win one of several gift baskets. The baskets contained a myriad of presents, each a different theme. Some of the choices included sports, movie night, arts and crafts, baking, and game night. Additionally, three bicycles – one for boys, one for girls, an done for toddlers – were also available in the raffle.
Original story can be found in the 12/21 edition of the Pawtucket Times.