CENTENNIAL, Colorado - Neither rain nor cold could stop the Centennial, Colorado, community from stepping up to come through in a big way for Big Bill's New York Pizza's 14th annual "9/11 Day of Giving," donating $100,000 that will go to Colorado cancer charities.
At daybreak on the morning of September 11, 2014, a light mist started that remained in some form through the day; temperatures stayed unseasonably cool. Despite that, the positive feeling from the fellowship, food and laughter shared warmed up of all who took part and helped everybody dry out just a little bit faster.
"I wish I had words to express how grateful I am to our customers who dig deep to help out families fighting cancer through this event," said Big Bill Ficke, owner of Big Bill's New York Pizza and father of Loyola University Maryland men's basketball assistant coach Dan Ficke. "We are so proud this has become a tradition that so many people circle on their calendars each year, and each year the generosity just blows us away."
The Fickes started the "9/11 Day of Giving" tradition in 2001 shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11. The idea was to have a day where all the money Big Bill's New York Pizza made in a day would go to help the families of those who lost firefighters and public servants in the attacks back in Big Bill's native New York. The day was so successful, they decided to make it an annual affair.
Now, each year on September 11, when customers eat at Big Bill's New York Pizza, instead of paying their checks, they pay whatever they feel in their hearts. Amazingly, people consistently donate far more than what they would pay for a meal, knowing it's going to a good cause. Everybody on the restaurant staff donates all of their time and tips, working for free. All other costs of putting on the event are covered by various sources, so each penny that comes in on "9/11 Day of Giving" goes to charity.
"When we count up everything, the incredible thing that shows how generous people are is that the average donation is about four times what our customers would pay for their meals," said Ficke. "So if we tell a family their meal would normally cost $25, they donate $100. It is very humbling that a simple idea has become a huge positive for people to connect on a day when we remember something terrible."
Through Big Bill's connections as a former NBA assistant coach and scout for the Denver Nuggets, many in the Mile High City's sports world frequent the event including 2013 NBA Coach of the Year George Karl.
In 2009, after the death of Big Bill's wife, JoAnn, from cancer, they formed the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation in her honor. Bill and Dan decided to make Colorado cancer patients and their families the focus of the "9/11 Day of Giving." Now, 100 percent of all the money raised at Big Bill's New York Pizza on September 11 stays in Colorado. The "9/11 Day of Giving" event has been so successful that since 2009, the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation has raised more than $700,000 for organizations in Colorado fighting cancer.
Dan returned to his hometown again for this year's event.
"I was taught at a young age the importance of being `a man for others,'" said Loyola's second-year assistant. "To stand with my father on this day when he is carrying on my mom's legacy of being a light to the world is something I would have gone to the moon to be a part of. So coming home from Baltimore is easy."
For more information on the event, or to make a donation, visit the Big Bill's New York Pizza website.