OAKLAND, N.J. – For about a year, a group of friends who met at Lakeside Fitness Center in Oakland have used group texts to motivate each other to work out and eat healthy.
Last week their messages took on a new mission.
One of them learned their favorite “cheat spot,” the Oakland Diner, had caught fire , and their beloved waitstaff would be out of work for at least weeks as damage is repaired.
“Colleen texted, ‘the Oakland Diner is on fire,’” Amy Pagan, of Ringwood, said Friday as she and her gym buddies gathered at a holiday party. Then someone responded, “'We have to do something.' Nuran said, ‘Let’s start a GoFundMe,’” Pagan recalled.
The eight women – hailing from Ringwood, Oakland and West Milford – launched their fundraiser on Wednesday. By Monday evening, it had garnered over $12,000 in donations for diner staff, some of whom are single mothers and rely on tips and their paychecks to support their families.
“We just want them to have a good holiday and not stress,” said Nuran Bekiroska of Ringwood.
The GoFundMe page is filled with kind messages for diner owner Harry Mihas and his employees.
“My heart goes out to all – great food and wonderful staff make it such a warm and home-like place to be,” wrote Cara Greene.
“Life will move forward and it’s nice to know that there are people to help when times are the hardest. To Harry and his staff, may you have the best Christmas ever,” wrote Richard Latrenta.
Colleen McMaster, of Oakland, said the outpouring of generosity from the community is not surprising.
“How he treats other people and his customers comes back to him,” she said of Mihas.
Toni Iapicca, of Oakland, agreed: “You just feel like family there.”
After the group of friends raved about the diner’s service and food – especially the peanut butter bombs – Daily Voice asked where they would eat while the diner is being repaired.
“There is no suitable replacement. We will wait it out,” Oakland resident Vivian King said with a smile.