Christmas ran on Dunkin' for the Bridgeport family of a former Dunkin' Donuts manager after franchisees learned one of their own had lost everything including holiday presents in a massive condominium building fire on New Year's Eve that displaced them and over 100 people. So, the franchisees decided to give the family a second Christmas and bring Santa in on it.
D'Andrea Group Dunkin' Donuts franchise owners Francesco and Frank D'Andrea and Nicole Ball heard about the blaze at the 215 Charles Street condo building in Bridgeport on the day of New Year's Eve and quickly learned that Vanessa Padilla, a former manager of theirs, and her three children were victims. The family lost their home, possessions, family car and every Christmas gift in the fire. Ball, of Branford, said she and her fellow franchisees felt horrible for them and wanted to help.
So, they jumped into action and rallied Santa's help to replace Padilla's children's gifts destroyed in the fire.
"We though it would be a good opportunity to have a second Christmas for the family," Ball said. "The littlest boy, we still wanted to keep the spirit of Christmas alive for him, so Santa came and we wanted to deliver their Christmas all over again."
Dunkin' Donuts staff and Santa surprised the children in the lobby of their hotel, the Holiday Inn at 1070 Main Street in Bridgeport, at 8 a.m. on Sunday to show them there's still "an opportunity to celebrate Christmas Eve even after all the devastation that happened to them," Ball said. The family came downstairs from their hotel room and got to open their new gifts donated on behalf of the D'Andrea Group Dunkin' Donuts franchise.
The gesture, which Vanessa Padilla knew about in advance but didn't know what they were getting, brought tears to her eyes as she watched her children open their surprise gifts.
"It's just an overwhelming feeling. It's a great feeling knowing they brought my kids' Christmas spirit back," Padilla said. "...I don't even know what to say or how to thank them....it kind of makes you forget just for a second what happened, what we just went through."
Vanessa's sister and former boss Aiesha Padilla, of Bridgeport, said she's grateful her bosses were able to help her sister by "bringing their Christmas back" after seeing everything they lost.
"She's good now. She was bad. But seeing all the support she's getting is tremendous," Padilla said of her sister, adding that her nephews were hurt over losing their Christmas gifts.
Padilla's oldest son, Khary Glover, 16, got a new MacBook Pro for Christmas, that was lost in the fire, so the Dunkin' Donuts franchise got him a new one. He's interested in video editing, which is the primary reason he wanted the laptop.
"I just wanted to thank the Dunkin' corporation because I thought we had nothing and they helped give us a couple things to get started," Glover said. "My brothers were devastated because all their Christmas gifts were ruined. They're excited today because they helped give back what they got for Christmas and it put a smile on their face, so I'm happy about that too."
Her middle child, Kevin Moales, 12, received new basketball gear and a PS4 game system.
Santa brought Vanessa Padilla's youngest child, Tony Dejesus, 6, a bike, an Xbox One and WWE wrestling figurines and a toy wrestling ring. The young wrestling fan said he was excited to get his gifts.
Santa also brought back the family's Elf on a Shelf, Spike after Tony had asked his mom if Spike died in the fire and told him that Spike, sporting a fire helmet and jacket, was nominated honorary Bridgeport fire chief.
"Now he knows the firemen saved spike," Padilla said, also thanking everyone in the fire department, city officials and community for their help with all the families.
To the firefighters, Tony said "thank you for rescuing Spike."
The D'Andrea Group franchises 13 Dunkin' Donuts stores in Clinton, Killingworth, Guilford, West Haven, Orange and Milford.
"As a Dunkin' Donuts franchisee, we have opportunities to give back to the community where we serve and it's not too often that we also get to give back to the people who run our stores and help pour the coffee every single day for our customers," Ball said. "So, this is a really nice opportunity for us to help out a former manager and give back to her, so we're really happy about that."
Ball said that people wanting to help the 120 people displaced in the Bridgeport condo fire can still make donations through the American Red Cross.