Richie Capizzi was a special person.
A revered pastry chef, he was known by his family and friends not only for his talent in the kitchen, but also for his kindness. For a decade, Capizzi was involved with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, a national nonprofit that funds research into pediatric cancers.
Capizzi, a Merrick resident, died last September at 45, following a two-year battle with glioblastoma, the most common type of brain cancer and an especially aggressive one.
Capizzi is survived by his wife, Phyllis, their daughter, Felicia, and their son, Gianni, and their friends and the greater Merrick community have rallied behind them, starting their own efforts to continue Capizzi’s work of giving back.
The Be A Good Cookie campaign kicked off on Sept. 9, with a fundraising goal of $100,000.
Cookies for Kids’ Cancer was co-founded by Gretchen Witt. Her son, Liam, succumbed to cancer when he was 7, in 2011.
Cancer is the leading cause of death in children from a disease, and experts say it is significantly under-researched, compared with adult cancers. In 2007, Witt and her husband, Larry, organized a large-scale bake-a-thon in honor of their son, which raised $420,000.
There are many ways that community groups can give back to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. People can hold bake sales, run a race, or organize their own bake-a-thons — among many other ideas.
During the nonprofit’s beginnings, Witt met Capizzi, who had been a pastry chef at Lincoln Ristorante in Manhattan. “He started working for and baking with her organization, and any time she’d have a big sale or fundraiser, he was there,” Jen Casano, co-organizer of the Be A Good Cookie campaign, said. “They worked for years and years together, raising money for this charity and doing great things.”
After Capizzi’s death, his friends and the community raised money last December, and proceeds were donated to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. This year, Witt reached out to Capizzi’s widow and asked if anyon she would be interested in taking part in a larger, month-long campaign.
“If we raise $100,000, it would fund this critical clinical trial — or treatment, I should say,” Casano said. “And if we can do that, it would be in Richie’s name.”
Capizzi’s involvement in the nonprofit came long before his own battle with cancer, Casano added, as he was always philanthropic. “That was just the type of person he was,” she said. “He wanted to give back, especially when it came to children. He really always wanted to do the right thing — and it was always about the kids.”
Christine Alonso, a co-organizer of Be A Good Cookie alongside Casano, said those involved began to meet in April, and brainstormed ways to meet their goals.
“We were starting completely from scratch,” she said. “We didn’t have any influence or presence in our community. We had to get into the schools, make presentations — talk to principals. It took a whole lot to get the name out there.”
The Be A Good Cookie campaign will continue through September, which is Childhood Cancer Awareness month.
It held an opening celebration at R.S. Beanery, a coffee and cocktail shop in Merrick, on Sept. 9, and for the rest of the month there will be plenty of events and opportunities for people to donate to the cause in person, or through the campaign’s website, My.BeAGoodCookie.org/WarriorsForRichie.
Schools in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District and the Merrick and North Merrick districts are also getting involved. Felicia Capizzi is a student at Sanford H. Calhoun High School, and Gianni attends Merrick Avenue Middle School, both in the high school district. Events like bake sales, and days dedicated to wearing gold — the color of the childhood cancer ribbon — are being organized by the schools.
The principals at Calhoun and Merrick Avenue have been tremendously supportive, Alonso said.
“It’s always a wonderful thing when a community joins together to support a good cause,” Calhoun Principal Nicole Hollings said. “This one is close to our hearts, and it’s been great to see the support of so many.”
“It has been truly inspiring to see an entire community honor the life of Mr. Capizzi by learning from his passion, dedication and philanthropy, and dedicating their efforts to support those battling pediatric cancer,” Katelyn Dunn, the Merrick Avenue Middle School principal, added. “It says so much about his legacy, but also about the beauty and power of this community.”
The campaign also connected with administrators in Wellington C. Mepham High School and John F. Kennedy High School in Bellmore, who offered their help and support as well.
“We did reach out to those high schools as well,” Alonso said. “At Kennedy, they have CHAMP — the cooking and baking program — and a Key Club. They’re looking forward to supporting us.”
The community’s efforts are all for Capizzi, Alonso said. “This whole community is really rallying around this,” she said. “To be able to do this in his name, we are continuing to do the work he was doing. It’s kids helping kids — students helping students. We can make a difference and keep his name alive.”