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August 2, 2021

Fundraiser supports Pinocchio’s Pizza family

Sal Oliveri battling lung cancer

Gilroyans are rallying behind Sal Oliveri, the longtime owner of Pinocchio’s Pizza who was diagnosed with lung cancer a year ago.

Gina Polhaupessy said her father began treatment immediately after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Metastatic Lung Cancer in July 2020. He recently underwent several rounds of radiation, adding to his current weekly chemo regimen, to target other areas that the cancer has spread to, she said.

Despite feeling weak from the treatment, Sal continues to work, even on the same days that he receives treatment, his daughter said.

“My dad has unbelievably gone to work every day throughout his battle,” she said. “Even if that means just taking things as slow as needed, or just being able to make two pizzas a day, he never gives up.”

The Oliveri family has owned and operated Pinocchio’s Pizza, 8400A Church St., since 1978. It is run entirely by the family: Sal, Vickie and Gina and her husband Duke. With no other employees, the family must balance between operating the business and being with Sal.

“We do not want to let our customers down. However, there are days that we simply need to open later, close early, or close the entire day to bring my dad to his chemo appointments, scans or other important appointments,” Gina said. “Some days, we want to stay home with Dad just because he isn’t strong enough and feeling very sick. We are a family first and foremost and no one fights alone.” 

But the bills still have to be paid. That’s where a community-driven fundraiser aims to help.

Sue Runsvold moved to Gilroy about three years ago from Willow Glen. Her son-in-law, who grew up in Gilroy, recommended Pinocchio’s to her, and it has since become a family favorite.

Runsvold said she did not know the Oliveri family. But when she heard about Sal’s fight, she stepped into action.

Runsvold formed a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the Oliveri family, with a goal of $10,000, and immediately began sharing the effort with the Gilroy community.

“With the battle he’s fighting, one worry we can absolutely relieve are money worries,” she said. “There’s 50,000 of us. We need to make Sal’s focus, Sal. No money worries.”

The fundraiser, which has raised nearly $4,000 as of June 21, has received more than 50 donors with varying amounts, from $10 to $500.

Gina said her family “can’t thank the Gilroy community enough,” and praised Runsvold’s efforts.

“She has done this out of the kindness of her heart,” she said. “Sue has helped us tremendously, as all funds will be used to compensate for the loss of income for days that we will not be able to open our business. Sue has stepped up to help our family in a way that we are endlessly thankful for. I am hoping to take some weight off of my dad’s shoulders and assure him the bills and all expenses will still be taken care of in times that he is too weak to work, and we must be by his side.”

Sal made the news in 2018, when he defended his family from a knife-wielding man who had stormed into the business. The attack left Sal with a cut to the bone in his forearm.

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