MILFORD — A small school in Haiti has found a place in the hearts of the owner, employees and customers at the Pizza Top restaurant in Milford, and now money is being raised each month to ensure the students at the school have what they need to succeed.
"It's love — that's the basis for it all," said George Mavridis, owner of the Pizza Top. "We love to help and we know we're the lucky ones in life."
Every month, Pizza Top chooses a charity to raise funds for, and uses a tip jar and a blackboard to draw attention to its cause.
Mavridis and his staff first learned of the organization called "Life and Hope Haiti" when employee Michael Tallarico of Milford attended a benefit dance for the organization held last year at the Yard Restaurant in Manchester.
Something about the charity, which funds the Eben Ezer School in the rural town of Milot in Haiti, hit close to home for the staff at the pizza parlor.
"It's about food, clothing and education," said Mavridis. "It's just the perfect cause."
Life and Hope Haiti became active in the Seacoast in 2007 after a resident from southern Maine traveled to the country and brought home stories of the struggles suffered by children in northern Haiti, said Amy Miller, spokesperson for the organization.
For those children, books, shoes, and even food can be out of reach, said Miller, but in 2003, a woman named Lucia Anglade fought against poverty to create the school. In 2007, there were only 35 students and two classrooms at the Eben Ezer School, but now, Miller said, there are nearly 300 students and 11 classrooms, all thanks to support from people primarily from Maine and New Hampshire.
"We got to see the actual difference the donations make," said Mavridis. "We were kept in the loop as to what is going on with the school and the organization itself."
The wave of support for Life and Hope Haiti started in the Kittery area in Maine, and has steadily spread west through New Hampshire over the past six years, said Miller. Rotary clubs, church groups, families and even neighborhoods have joined the grass-roots movement to ensure that the students at Eben Ezer have what they need to survive and to thrive, Miller said.
At Pizza Top, the school has become the focus of the staff and the regular customers, including Joan Delage, a resident who throws as much money into the tip jar as she can each week because she believes in the cause.
"I'm fortunate enough to be able to go out to lunch and it's good to give back to someone not as fortunate," said Delage.
Thus far, Pizza Top has raised more than $500 for Life and Hope Haiti, said Mavridis, and the effort is still underway to raise more. The business has recently begun sponsoring a child at the school, and Mavridis said that, by spring, he'd like to travel to Haiti to visit the school and meet the child his business and his customers are helping.
"I would love to see the school for myself," he said. "It's become so important to all of us."
For more information visit www.lifeandhopehaiti.org.