The employees of Morris eatery R-Place are a tight-knit group.
When one of their own, Assistant Manager Patti Poggi, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August, the team felt led to show their support, according to fellow Assistant Manager Kellee Rusniak.
“We’ve always had that family feel here — we probably spend more time with each other than we do with our families, so we just thought, ‘Gosh, we wish there was something we could do for her,’” Rusiak said.
Employees have come together to organize the Pasta for Patti Benefit, which is set for 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25, at the VFW Hall at 309 McKinley Street. Tickets are $10 in advance, and can be purchased at the restaurant, located at the TA Travel Center at 21 Romines Drive, or by calling Rusniak at (815) 600-3467 or Carrie Coughlin at (815) 735-5542. They are $12 at the door.
Rusniak has been taking part in organizing the benefit. She said the benefit has snowballed from the initial idea to hold a small benefit at the restaurant.
When the group realized how many people know Poggi, they realized they needed a new, bigger venue, and found the VFW. Rusniak said, already, the response from people who know Poggi and some who don’t, but just want to help, has been positive.
“We have had such a tremendous outpouring of generosity from the people, it’ll make you cry to even think about it, just the kindness (of people),” she said.
Rusniak and Poggi met Friday at R-Place, each in pink, to talk about the benefit. While Rusniak wore a pink tie-dyed shirt, Poggi had on pink stretchy bracelets and hot pink fingernail polish.
Before finding out she had cancer, Poggi worked the afternoon shift, and is well-known by the restaurant’s regulars, Rusniak said. She said Poggi is the kind of person you can’t help but like.
“When you meet her, you instantly love here,” she said. “She’s just that kind of person — she’d do anything for anybody, so it meant a lot for us to be able to do something for her.”
Rusniak said that, in addition to being a spaghetti dinner, the benefit will also feature live music, raffles for gift certificates to area businesses, and a silent auction.
Poggi said she was recovering from knee surgery that took place in late June when she found out she had breast cancer. She said a routine physical came back with with not-so-routine results.
Today, she says she’ll never forget Aug. 22 — getting the call from her doctor, going to the post-biopsy appointment with her daughter, and hearing the results: she had the form of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma.
“It’s like I shut down, I couldn’t focus. ... It was like something you see in the movies, I was just like, ‘God, it’s cancer. Cancer — God, why me’?” she said. “I didn’t sign up for this.”
In the following weeks, she had three surgeries — two lumpectomies and a mastectomy. In the mastectomy, doctors found a previously hidden 1.5-centimeter tumor.
At this point, Poggi is looking ahead to her recovery phase following the surgeries. She starts chemotherapy on Tuesday, which will be followed by radiation.
“This is the recovery period,” she said. “This is the way I look at it — Thank God, the cancer is gone, now (it’s time) to kill off everything else that may be growing, which I hope isn’t.”
In planning the benefit, Rusniak said her phone’s been ringing constantly in recent days, as more people express their interest in helping.
“People are just coming out of the woodwork to help and I can’t tell you how many phone calls I’ve gotten (of), ‘Oh, we know her, we love her, what can we do?’” she said.
Poggi said the amount of support that has already come from family, friends, customers and even total strangers has been more than she can put into words.
“It’s been so overwhelming. It’s unbelievable — unreal,” she said.
She added that working in a number of restaurants over the years has allowed her to meet so many people from all over. She said that she’s built up quite a network across the region.
“I’m known from Bureau County to Will County, and everywhere in between,” she said, laughing.
Poggi said that while she’s a little nervous for the night, she’s also excited. Most of all, she’s looking forward to closing this next part of the process and getting back to normal life and back to her job and work family at R-Place.
“I just can’t wait to get back to normal Patti again,” she said. “It’s just going to take time — it’s just a process.”