WESTCHASE — It began with a small gesture, then exploded into a 1,400-pizza phenomenon.
Christy Nash and her friend Laura Frasor wanted to help the fleet of out-of-town power linemen, assembled at Tampa Bay Downs, who were helping with Hurricane Irma repairs. Nash and Frasor brought a few shopping carts full of supplies, then off-handedly mentioned they'd be back with some dinnertime pizza for everyone.
One of the linemen chuckled.
"That's very nice, but you know when everybody gets back, we'll have about 1,000 guys here,'' he said.
"Well, how many do you need?'' Nash said.
"Probably about 500 to 700 pizzas,'' he replied, straight-faced.
Nash and Frasor, who own their own social media-driven businesses, nodded in agreement. "OK, we'll do that,'' they said.
"You could tell by the look in his eyes that he was thinking, 'All right, we'll never see you girls again,' '' Frasor said. "Like, 'Nice try, but you can't do that. How the heck are you going to pull that off?' ''
With five creative, determined friends working toward a goal.
With the power of social media.
And with the cooperation of some already overtaxed Domino's Pizza stores.
Frasor explained the volume-pizza need to a manager at Domino's Odessa location, then it was passed up the corporate chain. An ordering link was established that explained how the pizzas would help a cause — along with setting a discount price of $6.25 (down from $10.99) — and Facebook did the rest.
The brains of a squad that called itself "Operation Pizza Delivery'' — Nash of Palm Harbor, Frasor of Odessa, Maureen Mele of Westwood Lakes, Janine Battaglia of the Eagles and Jackie Keenan of Highland Park — shared the link on their Facebook pages, mixing in social media destinations for the neighborhoods and PTAs for their children's schools.
Within three hours, 1,400 pizzas were ordered. People responded from dozens of different states and Canada.
"We literally had more pizzas than we could reasonably provide and more than they would need,'' said Graham Ballard, vice president of operations for Domino's in the Tampa Bay area. "Sometimes, we all get caught up in our day-to-day grind. This kind of effort was just heartwarming and humbling. It almost brought a tear to your eye.''
Operation Pizza Delivery needed a quick revision.
There were plenty of pizzas for the linemen at Tampa Bay Downs.
Extras were delivered to assisted living facilities, fire stations, police stations and homeless shelters.
With the Domino's locations already short-staffed and working at peak capacity, the pizzas had to be produced in waves over about a 10-day period.
"It was an amazing problem to have,'' Ballard said. "The pizzas ultimately went to people who really needed them, the needy, the first responders, the people who were working overtime to get everybody back on their feet. It was an unbelievable effort.''
And one that still leaves the Operation Pizza Delivery ladies in a bit of awe.
"We were without power at our home for a few days, but it sustained no physical damage and we had a generator, so we were fine,'' Frasor said. "We probably had better living conditions than some of these men and women who came to help us, some of whom came here straight from (Hurricane) Harvey in Texas.
"I go home one night and these guys are working on the streets of my community. We brought them four pizzas and they looked at us like, 'We don't want to offend, but maybe you could give these to someone who needs them more.' They were so selfless. And they're working with wires hanging off trees. It's the least we could do to help them. They are heroes.''
Nash said lessons were everywhere, particularly for the group's children, who learned about the value of giving back.
"We underestimated the power of social media and we underestimated the generosity of this community,'' Nash said. "Some of my friends didn't have power. They could've been sitting around complaining, but no, they helped to create something very positive.
"We had no idea it would get this big. But for people who came here to help us — taking time away from their own families — we were honored to help them.''
Contact Joey Johnston at [email protected]