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Strangers, pizza shop help feed Boston's first responders and victims

April 16, 2013 at 6:41 PM ET

Within a couple hours of the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday, social media lit up as individuals, organizations and businesses coordinated donations for victims and first responders. And one local pizza shop unwittingly became the center of a nationwide effort to supply them with hot meals through the night.

Through the Random Acts of Pizza forum on Reddit, hundreds of users from across the country donated more than 1,500 pizzas to emergency command centers and hospitals across the city.

“It got really crazy,” Perry Silveira, owner of Anytime Pizza in nearby Cambridge, told TODAY.com. His shop handled the bulk of the orders, and his inventory of dough, sauce and cheese was entirely cleared by Reddit users donating pies through the night.

Silveira and his business partner are unsure how exactly their shop became a focal point for the pizza pipeline, but were happy for a practical way to assist with the relief effort. A Reddit user from Oklahoma first contacted Silveira’s shop in the late afternoon on Monday, asking to donate food to police and firefighters in Boston. After Silveira doubled the order out of his own pocket, he saw a surge of online orders with the same donation request.

The Anytime Pizza kitchen crew and drivers worked non-stop until 4:30 a.m. on Tuesday, dispatching shipments of hot food wherever they thought might need it. Police escorted his drivers through blocked roads and security checkpoints to ensure that workers and volunteers were properly fed.

“I love to cook,” Silveira said. “If all I can do to help is feed people, that’s what I’ll do.”

When the orders started to overwhelm Anytime Pizza, donors were directed to use its GrubHub page. The online ordering site has waived all its fees for Anytime Pizza orders through Thursday, GrubHub spokeswoman Abby Hunt said.

More than 300 people have donated through Anytime Pizza with orders ranging from a $10 pizza to more than $500 for a single order, she said.

Among the standouts was a large delivery specified for the Boston Police Department. It contained a note: "To our brothers and sisters in Boston: thank you for all you do and know our thoughts are with you and your city tonight. With love and respect, the South San Francisco Police Department out in CA."

Other restaurants also extended their support to victims and emergency workers, amplifying their offer of food and assistance via Twitter.

Jim Hoben, owner of El Pelón Taquería near Fenway Park, about a mile from the marathon finish line, tweeted to those in need that his restaurant was a place to go where they “don’t have to buy a thing.” Hoben later tweeted that both his Fenway shop and sister location along the marathon route near Boston College had “cold drinks, bathrooms, place to charge a phone and a calm place to sit.”

Story: Amid Boston Marathon tragedy, taqueria gives free food, shelter, comfort

When his shop burned to the ground two years ago, Hoben felt strong support from a community pulling for his business to reopen. “We have a tight connection,” Hoben says of his relation to the people of Boston, “so of course we would do whatever we could to help in a situation like this.”

Hoben says that runners, event volunteers and emergency workers came into the shop in a steady stream, many of them without wallets and looking to warm up. Strangers who saw his Twitter posts came to volunteer alongside his staff, who stayed extra hours at both locations to prepare food and assist those who flocked to the shop. “It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “I can’t give my staff enough credit.”

As businesses around the city and individuals thousands of miles away give what they can to help Boston recover, emergency workers feel an overwhelming sense of support.

“People have been really great, sending us meals,” said one Boston policeman standing guard near the scene of the blasts. “They always are, after something terrible like this,” his partner echoed.

Amy Langfield contributed to this report.

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