CRYSTAL LAKE – It’s not often you find an open restaurant on Christmas Day.
“I was a single mom for 13 years,” said Jennifer Falbo, Pablo’s owner. “I spent a lot of time at the Salvation Army and food pantries. If I didn’t have that, I wouldn't have been able to take care of my kids.”
On Monday, from 2 to 4 p.m., Pablo’s served homeless veterans, single parents and families who didn’t have the means to provide a Christmas Day meal at home.
Denise Keller and Ken Harvey have been roommates for more than a decade. Both have jobs – Keller as a personal assistant for a neighbor and Harvey as a cashier for the Crystal Lake Dollar Tree – but both need food stamps to survive.
“It’s hard to make ends meet,” said Keller, 57.
If not for Pablo’s, Keller and Harvey would not have celebrated Christmas.
“We’re thankful for it,” Keller said. “We’re blessed.”
“We appreciate it,” said Harvey, 53. “This is all about the community.”
Their plates were piled high with ham, turkey, scalloped potatoes and green beans.
A staff of volunteers cooked 27 26-pound turkeys, 40 10-pound hams and 25 whole chickens.
“We’ve got every fixing and trimming you would have at a traditional Christmas dinner,” owner Fred Falbo said.
The restaurant served up ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, green bean casserole and more. There were even sweet treats such as candy canes, cake and cookies.
The genesis of the Christmas Day meal was the fact that the Falbos’ family moved south, leaving the couple with the season’s biggest question: What do you want to do for Christmas?
“Want to go to a soup kitchen?” Fred asked his wife.
Jennifer had a better idea: “Let’s open Pablo’s and serve food from the restaurant.”
Emotions overtook the couple.
“We held each other and cried for a minute or 10,” Fred said. “We had a good cry.”
The owners announced the event on the morning of Dec. 12 on the restaurant’s Facebook page. By the next day, the post had been shared more than 300 times. The Falbos asked for donations of socks, gloves, hats and toys to give an added gift to those who stopped in for the meal.
The day after the announcement went out, Pablo’s patrons showed up with small donations. Socks and gloves hung from a small Christmas tree set up at the back of the restaurant.
By the next day, patrons showed up with shopping bags full of gifts. By the time the restaurant opened Monday
afternoon, more than 4,000 gifts wrapped by a cadre of volunteers stuffed the restaurants bar booths.
One patron dropped off $20 gift cards for Aldi. Another donated $25 gift cards for Joseph’s Marketplace in Crystal Lake.
A 14-year-old Boy Scout named David Etling dropped off 10 $10 gift cards he bought at McDonald’s with money he made doing yard work in his neighborhood.
“I feel really good giving things to people,” said Etling, a scout with Troop 657 in Cary.
Pablo’s has been in business in Crystal Lake for 31 years. The Falbos bought it from former owner Paul Morin almost four years ago.
To Jennifer and Fred Falbo, helping the community is what the holidays are all about.
“We’re all a mortgage payment away from being in foreclosure, we’re all a light bill payment away from having the lights turned off,” Fred Falbo said. “We want to provide for those families that could really use the help.”