A small pizzeria in Fargo, North Dakota has a very big heart. The Little Caesars franchise, which opened in 2015, has made it their mission to feed the homeless in the area after seeing a man go through their trash looking for food.
Owners Mike and Jennifer Stevens had originally seen a homeless man sitting outside of a gas station and brought him a pizza.
“My daughters and I were looking out of the window and saying should we get him something,” Jenny told TODAY Food. “We brought him a pizza. He was so thankful and so gracious. Then we ended up doing it again for a different person. And again, for a different person. And again, for another person.”
A year later, the family saw someone looking for food in their garbage and they decided to put a sign that read:
“To the person going through our trash for their next meal, you’re a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster. Please come in during operating hours for a couple of slices of hot pizza and a cup of water at no charge. No questions asked.”
Soon the family started giving away whole pizzas to people in need. After being diagnosed with leukemia, Mike began collaborating with a homeless shelter, delivering frozen pies. Since then, they’ve begun working with two more shelters. The New Life Center, one of the shelters, has used the donated pies to host a weekly pizza night.
Jenny, who has been told that it is the most popular night at the shelter, often attends as a volunteer to serve the homeless men. “To have this little night, one time a week that's pizza night and movie night, may sound like a silly thing, but it's making a continual difference in these peoples’ lives."
So far, the family has given away more than 142,000 slices of pizza, estimated to be worth around $70,000. After Mike lost his battle with cancer in December 2017, Jenny decided to continue feeding the hungry by giving away pies and raising money through GoFundMe.
“He really, really pursued this,” she told TODAY. “It’s a small thing that we can do to bring a big difference in their day and it’s just kept going. You have to come together to help each other out. We just do it because it seems like the right thing to do.”
There are approximately 760 homeless people in Fargo-Moorhead on most nights. The average age of the homeless people in the area is 42 for men and 33 for women. However, more than 20% are under the age of 18, and another 20% are veterans, while 17% are employed but without housing. Homelessness in North Dakota has increased nearly 20% since 2016. Nationwide, homelessness increased last year for the first time in seven years, HUD says. Soaring rents is the main reason for the increase, especially in the western United States.
Little Caesars, which was founded in 1959, has nearly 5,500 locations, making it the third-largest pizza chain in the United States after Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza. It operates and franchises pizza restaurants in the United States and internationally in Asia, the Middle East, Australia, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean.