By Jennifer Gorski


Family and pizza have been a priority for Chris Phillips for years, but something else was added to the list a year ago – a dedication to raising money for Alzheimer’s. Why? Chris, who lost his father to Alzheimer’s two years ago, plainly states, “My dad did so much for me.”

Chris’s father, Joseph, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1995. Chris, 34, admitted that after his mother told him about his father, “I really didn’t believe her.” He thought to himself, “He’s just forgetting. He’s just getting old.” But after Chris’s mother began finding unpaid bills in the trash and his father saying he knew nothing about it, Chris began to realize it was something more serious than just “getting old”.

Joseph was cared for by his wife until she suddenly passed away in 2003. At his mother’s wake, Chris was confronted by a friend with the question, “Where is your father going to live now?” Chris said he wasn’t sure, but his wife, Trinity, quickly stepped in and said, “What do you mean? He’s going to live with us.” During his stay, Joseph would go to adult day care Monday through Friday at Lord of Life Lutheran Church. When Chris approached them for caregiver information, Lord of Life recommended that he call the Alzheimer’s Association. Chris said, “I was looking for anyone who could tell me what to do and where to go. I was looking for respite care and financial guidance”. Joseph lived with Chris and Trinity for 15 months before being moved to assisted living, and in 2005 he passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.

Over a year later, in August 2006, Chris received an Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk brochure in the mail. He decided to stop in the office to find out more information since his pizzeria, Pesci’s Pizza, was right around the corner. Chris agreed to sell 50 paper elephants at his pizzeria for $1 each, and he was extremely surprised when he sold out of them the first day.

From that day on, Chris set the goal of selling 500 elephants and Pesci’s Pizza would match the amount raised. They exceeded their goal and raised over $1,000 dollars. But Chris’s fundraising efforts didn’t end there. Combining the pizzeria’s donations and his Memory Walk donations, he raised upwards of $3,800 for the Alzheimer’s Association in 2006.

So what is Chris’s goal for 2007? He wants to raise $15,000. It is quite an ambitious goal for a beginner, right? Wrong. Chris is already well on his way to raising thousands of dollars for the 2007 Memory Walk. He has been planning all year long for the Memory Walk season. “Last week I got out of bed in the middle of the night to get my mailing list together.” Trinity adds, “He’ll jump right out of bed, not just slither, and it scares the you know what out of me.” Chris defended his actions by saying, “You think of certain people, and you just don’t want to forget them.” Now that is a serious competitor.

Chris does have a competitive side, but he puts it to good use. Over the past year Chris’s fundraising wheels have been turning, and it didn’t take long before the Western New York Free Cheese Challenge was born. Chris explains, “I don’t even really remember where it all started. I just wanted to see if someone would donate something.” Being in the pizza business, what else would come to mind first but cheese? So Chris went to Sorrento, asked if they would be willing to donate cheese, and to his surprise they said yes almost immediately. The rest is history? No, the rest is hard work and a lot of planning.

Chris went back to the Alzheimer’s Association and told them the good news that Sorrento would donate cheese, and the brilliant idea was put into motion - Western New York pizzeria’s would compete to see who could sell the most elephants and raise the most money for the Alzheimer’s Association. The grand prize? 1,000 pounds of Sorrento shredded mozzarella cheese which is valued at around $2,600. Of course the 2nd and 3rd place pizzerias couldn’t be left empty handed. Chris approached Coca-Cola and Enterprise Box Co. to donate their products, too. Coke is donating $400 worth of their product for 2nd place, and Enterprise Box. Co. is donating 1,000 pizza boxes for 3rd place. Joni Williams, Director of Development at the Alzheimer’s Association, expresses her excitement about the donations – “It is exciting to see these local companies supporting the local Alzheimer’s Association chapter.”

Since pizza consumes all of Chris’s professional life and cheese prices are almost at an all-time high, he thought, “I wanted to see how I could get more people involved. Knowing how many pizzerias’ there are in WNY and how many people go into pizzerias, it seemed like a great idea.” Although Chris can’t be sure how successful the Challenge will be, he and the Alzheimer’s Association are hoping it will be the beginning of a huge and successful annual event. Chris’s two partners at Pesci’s Pizza, Roy and Jim Dickey, are extremely philanthropic participating in two or three charity events per week.

Trinity also explained that there are many things that affected their family such as breast cancer, diabetes, and Parkinson’s, but Alzheimer’s is close to their hearts because Chris’s father was such a unique person – soft-spoken but very funny. Joni Williams states, “Chris is so committed to helping others. He does everything with great passion.” The giving doesn’t stop with Chris or Trinity either. Their daughter, Jersey, 5, and her friend Zack Dommer, 4, held a lemonade sale in front of Pesci’s Pizza in August and raised $86 for Alzheimer’s.

So what’s next for Chris and his compulsive habit of fundraising? Chris would like to hold an annual party to raise money for Alzheimer’s every year which will hopefully raise upwards of $5,000 to $10,000. “I want to see the Free Cheese Challenge get bigger and bigger each year,” and Pesci’s Pizzeria wants to add an Alzheimer’s Pizza to the Pesci’s Pizza menu. They already have other charity named pizzas, such as Mercy Flight and Make-A-Wish, where a portion of the pizza sale goes to the named charity. Chris also mentioned, jokingly, “I can’t be in the pizza business forever, so maybe I’ll have an office over there someday,” referring to the Alzheimer’s Association.

To find out more information about the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY, Memory Walk or the Free Cheese Challenge log onto

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