More than $10,000 was raised during a fundraiser at Michelangelo’s Pizzeria in Mattituck Tuesday evening for the restaurant’s manager, Felipe Rodriguez of Wantagh, who was recently diagnosed with a rare form of lymphoma and is now unable to work. An additional $9,000 has been raised in an online fundraiser.
“I support my crew,” said Michelangelo’s owner Frank DiStefano, who added that a total of $10,400 was raised through ticket sales and donations from local organizations. “If someone’s down, we want to help.”
In an interview, Mr. Rodriguez’s wife, Sofia, said through a translator that her husband is “very thankful, as are we” for the efforts. She attended the fundraiser with their 5-year-old son, Felipe Jr., 3-year-old daughter, Valentina, and niece Vanessa Rodriguez of Elmont. Mr. Rodriguez, 54, who was diagnosed in March, is undergoing chemotherapy and was unable to attend the event, she said.
“Felipe wanted to say that he’s very thankful for everybody,” Ms. Rodriguez said. “He didn’t think he would get such a response because he hasn’t worked here that long.”
Mr. Rodriguez was hired as manager of the Main Road restaurant three years ago, she said.
“We feel the love, the warmth, everybody’s prayers,” Ms. Rodriguez continued. “Everybody calling and reaching out to our family has been very nice for us.”
Tuesday’s fundraiser included a buffet dinner, chinese auction and live music by Isabel Alvarez and Rob Europe, both of Southold. Local businesses also donated goods and services for 24 raffle baskets featuring items like wine and restaurant gift certificates. In addition to the fundraiser, Michelangelo’s employee Megan Blanchard of Riverhead has set up a Go Fund Me page for Mr. Rodriguez that had raised an additional $9,300 as of Wednesday morning, bringing the total to close to $20,000.
“It’s great,” said Ms. Blanchard, who also organized Tuesday’s event. “I [originally] put the goal at $5,000 and we exceeded that so I made it $15,000. I feel like if [Mr. Rodriguez] has a substantial amount of money to at least relax and get better, then he won’t have to worry about where money is coming from.”
Jim Finnican of New Suffolk, who attended the fundraiser with his wife, Tanya, said they have dinner at Michelangelo’s twice a month and that Mr. Rodriguez greets them “with a smile every time.”
“He’s a very personable guy,” Mr. Finnican said. “We found out about the fundraiser and were like, ‘We definitely want to be here.’ He’s a very gentle man.”
Correction: Due to incorrect information supplied to The Riverhead News-Review, a previous article about Mr. Rodriguez stated that he was diagnosed with liver cancer. According to family members, he actually has a rare form of lymphoma.