By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
When the doors opened Christmas Day, Charlie’s Pizza in Little Falls was packed, with folks volunteering, serving and eating in what was standing room only — some folks made themselves at home, finding a seat on the floor.
As they enjoyed pizza, homemade soup, cookies and ice cream, Santa, though tired after a long night, greeted children, ensuring each left with not only a satisfied appetite, but with a gift.
More than 250 toys and other gifts were donated by members of the community to be given away including bicycles, dozens of teddy bears, footballs and basketballs. Some of the toys were offered as prizes in a raffle drawing.
Elene Tonder entertained the group with Christmas songs and carols, adding to the festive atmosphere.
Marvin Welinski and his family live in Plymouth. Welinski, who grew up in Little Falls, heard about the event, but wasn’t sure when it was.
When he realized it was Christmas Day, Welinski said he knew he had to stop when the family came to visit his parents, Ed and Renee Welinski, for Christmas.
Welinski said he remembered Charlie’s as having “the best pizza, with a quality of cheese that is fabulous.”
Thomas and Kim Abraham from Pierz, had already celebrated their Christmas, but brought their daughters Alexis and Trinity to the event looking to spend a nice time together as a family.
Owner Charlie Peterka started the tradition a couple of years ago, on the suggestion of his nephew, Tyler Peterka. That Thanksgiving Tyler suggested opening the restaurant for Thanksgiving — but with the Thanksgiving Community Meal already a popular stop that day, the Peterkas decided Christmas Day would work better.
The first year, Charlie’s parents, siblings and other family members served just more than 100 people.
This year, they served nearly 500 people.
Peterka said the event is “not about Charlie’s Pizza. It’s about community.”
KARE 11 news showed up “out of the blue” said Charlie. The online story, said Charlie is three minutes long “It starts out, Little Falls was not so little Christmas Day …. it’s kind of cute.”
Charlie credits the community in bringing the day together — the 20 volunteers, Hardware Hank for donating bicycles and 40 toys, Coborn’s for supplying ingredients for soup for 400; Walmart supplying gift cards so gifts could be purchased; Pete and Joy’s Bakery donating all the cookies served, Coca Cola donating the pop, Roma donated bread sticks and cheese, Hilmerson RV made a generous donation to help defray costs and Thielen Meats donated “pretty much all of the meat that we needed,” said Charlie.
So too, the Little Falls Exchange Club and Lions Club pitched in.
“It’s not me,” said Charlie. “There are so many beautiful, beautiful people in the community.”
With the success of the event, Charlie said he and everyone involved were walking a foot off the ground, calling the day magical.
“It’s a life changer,” he said. “It changes the lives of the people who get the opportunity to do that. … We’re just lucky enough to know how to make some soup or pizza.”