More than 100 people in Saratoga Springs were eating pizza for a good cause on Saturday night.
Two families that hail from New Jersey, but are now neighbors near Saratoga Race Course, teamed up to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. Conceived a week ago, the plan was to use one family’s pizza-making know-how and ovens and the other family’s backyard.
“We just thought maybe we’d have a few people show up and eat some pizza and drink some wine,” said Kim Billok, who hosted the festivities at her Nelson Avenue home. “We ended up having more than 100 people RSVP.”
Starting at 6 p.m., her backyard was transformed into a cozy eatery. Candles in paper bags led the way to heat lamps, fire pits, a table of desserts, tables and chairs and a pizza-making effort led by Dil Sheji.
Resting on the bed of a pickup truck was a stone pizza oven that Sheji built. He was turning out pizzas at a rate of up to one every two minutes.
In the past his oven has helped raise money to fight multiple sclerosis and to support youth hockey, so it was kind of a no-brainer to use it for this cause. “I feel horrible that it all happened,” he said. “It feels good to try and do something.”
His efforts have included bringing generators down to family members.
The impact of Hurricane Sandy didn’t escape the Sheji or Billok families. Sherri Sheji said they both have friends and families who saw their houses washed away or get flooded with 5 feet of water.
Her own family regularly vacations at Long Beach Island in New Jersey, but not next summer. “They were totally underwater,” Sherri said.
They’re hoping to raise more than $3,000 to donate to the Red Cross.
The evening kicked off at 5 p.m. with an hour of pizza pickup for families that weren’t able to attend the party. Dil Sheji said they sold about 30 pizzas at $15 apiece just from pickup orders.
At 6 p.m. the dine-in options started, with couples getting a pizza and a bottle of wine for $20.
The selection was diverse, as Dil noted they had plain, Mediterranean, margarita and cheeseless pizza. “I could go on forever,” he said.
The most popular was the cheeseless pizza, which he had initially created for his oldest son because of his aversion to cheese. “Whenever I make pizza, that is the first one to go. Don’t ask me why,” Dil said.
His history with making pizzas stretches back a couple of decades, as he was unsatisfied with the local pizza selections when he moved to the area. Because he was a stonemason, Dil was able to take care of the problem himself. His wife said he loves to make pizza.
That feeling was on display Saturday as he tossed dough in the air and put on a bit of a show for the crowd of more than 30 who had gathered early in the evening.
Billok said she was really encouraged by the crowd for the event, which also featured desserts she made and ziti from Sherri.
“Everyone and their mother has stepped forward and said they would bring something,” she said, with the event also collecting relief items.
In addition to the individuals who came out to support the cause, Dil was impressed by the aid from local businesses.
“I don’t think we had one company that said, ‘No, we can’t help you,’ ” he said. Eddy’s Beverage donated beer and Mastroianni Bros. bakery and Futia’s Famous Pizza Dough donated izza dough and By George Food Distributors contributed 15 pounds of mozzarella cheese.
Additional donations and support also came from the organizers of Saratoga Beer Week, Five Points Grocery, Stone Industries, Roma Foods and Saratoga Brewery.