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SI Pizzeria Owner Says Feeding Migrants is What the Lord Calls Him to Do

Sebastian Bongiovanni (in his restaurant with a family he helped) said his concern for the well-being of migrants coming into Staten Island is taking precedence over his objections to their presence: “My message right away is let’s feed them because that’s going to alleviate the immediate concern.” (Photo: Courtesy of Danielle Liguori)

TRAVIS, STATEN ISLAND — Like many new restaurant owners, Sebastian Bongiovanni proudly displays $20 bills signed by customers wishing him good luck on the wall behind the counter of his eatery, Verde’s Pizza and Pasta on Victory Boulevard. But Bongiovanni also has something else on his wall — something you don’t usually see.

Taped to the wall are printouts of online orders from customers that also contain Bible verses and special instructions for Bongiovanni, like, “Keep the slice and tip. Use for the migrants. God bless you for your help.”

Bongiovanni and his wife, Danielle Liguori, who opened their eatery a little over a month ago, have been providing food for migrants housed at hotels in their Travis, Staten Island neighborhood.

The migrants, many of whom were bused into New York City from Texas after they crossed the border from Mexico into the U.S., were reportedly transported to hotels around the city — including the Fairfield Inn and Suites in Travis — by Mayor Eric Adams’ administration. However, the mayor’s office would not confirm if any specific Staten Island hotels are among the places housing them.

So far, 18,600 migrants have been bused into New York, according to Adams’s office. The mayor revealed in an Oct. 7 press conference that 5,500 children of migrants have been placed in the city’s public schools. Adams has declared a state of emergency, calling the ongoing influx of migrants into the city “unsustainable.”

Bongiovanni’s response to the migrant crisis is simple: Help those in need. When a migrant family wandered into Verde’s one day, the owners gave them a hot meal — at no charge.

“People came to the door,” he explained. “They were women and children, and they were hungry. We fed them, and they were very grateful. After they ate, the mother showed the children to the counter to say thank you. So you could see right away these were very family-oriented people.”

The couple also delivers any leftover food they have at closing time to the migrants. 

“These are women and children who are starving, who are looking for food,” Liguori said. “And at the end of the night, we would go to the hotel and drop it off to them.”

In addition, Bongiovanni has developed a system for donations that allows customers to order pizza or pasta online and designate a tip — any amount they choose — to be spent on food for the migrants.

The generosity of his customers, who have been writing messages praising his efforts on their online pizza orders, didn’t surprise Sebastian Bongiovani. “A lot of people have been helping [the migrants], but they don’t want their name on the help,” he said. (Photo: Paula Katinas)
The printouts on Verde’s wall tell a tale. One customer’s message: “Please forward the pizza and tip money to the migrants because, as the Bible says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord and the Lord will repay him for his deed. Psalm 19:17.”

Another customer wrote, “Whatsoever you do (to) the least of my brothers, you do unto me. Signed, Jesus Your Mother is Proud of You.”

Bongiovanni and Liguori said their Catholic faith is driving their actions.

“I pray every day. So Catholic, to me, is the core of my heart,” said Bongiovanni, who is originally from Gravesend, Brooklyn, and attended Our Lady of Grace Church growing up. “And we live by certain things, and there are certain things that I care very deeply about. Women and children cannot go hungry.”

Bongiovanni, said he doesn’t think the migrants belong here, is putting aside his political views to offer help. 

“I’m a Republican. I believe … if you want to come to this country, you do it in a legal manner. I completely disagree with the wild coyote thing that’s happening now,” he explained.

The couple’s generosity is garnering attention in the community. On Oct. 13, Agnes Vandina and Cathy Molino, who live in Oakwood, Staten Island, heard about what Verde’s was doing and stopped by the restaurant to thank the couple.

 “What they’re doing is wonderful,” Molino said.

Vandina and Molino, who were on their way to the hotel to drop off food and clothing for the migrants, said they were shocked at how little the families had. Both women are Catholic, and Vandina said their faith is propelling them to action.

“In school, when you study the Corporal Works of Mercy, that means to feed the hungry. They’re hungry. Clothe the naked. They need clothes. Give drink to the thirsty and give shelter,” she explained.

The generosity happening at Verde’s is taking place amid a backdrop of controversy over the migrant situation. Some Staten Island lawmakers have charged that the community is being unfairly burdened with migrants.

Republican Congresswoman Nicole Malliotalkis held a press conference on Staten Island calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Adams, who are Democrats, to join GOP efforts to push the Biden Administration to address the crisis at the Southern border.

“It’s unsustainable to the taxpayers and unreasonable for our leaders to think an appropriate solution is to turn more hotels into shelters, more parks into tent cities, and add cruise ships [housing migrants] to our ports,” she said.

Fabien Levy, a spokesman for the mayor, did not respond directly to Malliotakis’ statement, instead directing The Tablet to a statement Adams made after the Biden Administration announced a new border policy on Oct 12 pertaining to migrants from Venezuela — where many of the migrants bused to New York City are from. 

Under the policy, migrants will be required to apply for entry into the U.S. and will have to prove they have a sponsor in the country. If they don’t, they will be sent back to the other side of the border into Mexico.

“This federal action is a short-term step to address this humanitarian crisis and humanely manage the flow of border crossings,” the mayor said. “But a long-term and proactive strategy is still needed.”

Meanwhile, in Travis, not everyone is pleased with the generosity of Verde’s owners. The couple has heard talk that people in the neighborhood, outraged over the presence of the migrants, might  boycott the restaurant.

Bongiovanni has a simple message for the detractors.

“If you don’t want to come to Verde’s because I help people, don’t come. We don’t want you,” he said defiantly. “And you know what? There’s a lot of people that will come and continue [to come], and that’s what we’re here for.”

One thought on “SI Pizzeria Owner Says Feeding Migrants is What the Lord Calls Him to Do

  1. Thank you for your kindness. You inspired me to purchase and donate 6 winter coats for these migrant children who have so little.

    “Here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.” – John F. Kennedy