CLEVELAND — Like pineapple on a pizza, it is an unlikely pairing — four fourth-grade girls from Bay Village and a family-run pizza shop in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.
But together, the two groups are making an incredible impact in the lives of dozens of hungry people in Cleveland by giving out free, hot pizzas to those in need.
A few weeks ago, the four girls from Westerly Elementary in Bay Village had an idea — they wanted to hold a fundraiser to sell little cards with inspiring message on them for $5 a piece. Each card would prepay for a meal for someone in need.
The girl's team is called “The Destroyers.” Their mission? To destroy hunger in Ohio.
One by one, as the line inside Pizza Whirl reveals every day, they are doing just that.
The girls never thought their project would go so far, especially because it wasn’t easy to even get started.
“We called a lot of restaurants to see if they would do it and Pizza Whirl was the only one that answered positive,” one of the girls said.
Pizza Whirl owner Angelo Iwais said saying yes to the girls was a no-brainer — and a blessing.
“I’m from this neighborhood. I was born and raised down here. I know a lot of people here need the food,” Iwais said. “Plus, it is cold outside. Get in from the cold, get a free pizza, relax. People do need it.”
The family-owned shop, on W. 25th Street in Ohio City, has been open for less than two years.
“It’s giving back to the community that welcomed us when we opened up,” said Selana Iwais.
The handwritten signs in crayon posted to the front of the shop’s windows read, “Hungry? No Money? Come inside to get a prepaid one-topping pizza.”
The girls sold 38 cards right off the bat. Paying customers at Pizza Whirl have kept the momentum going by purchasing more cards and writing messages. The $5 donation goes toward a local homeless shelter.
One of the notes that stuck out to both the girls and the shop owners read, “I was there, too,” from a man who had once experienced homelessness and was now paying it forward.
“People saw the signs, they came in and I guess from word of mouth, it kind of blew up,” Salena said. “Every morning around 11 a.m., we have a line out the door for people that are hungry.”
An unlikely pairing, an incredible mission — and no signs of slowing down.
“I feel proud. i just feel like, proud. I couldn’t believe we actually did that. Four fourth-graders could do that! Something so big.”
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.