When Sandi DiGangi found about last Thursday’s physical assault and robbery of an Oak Lawn senior, she became ill.
“I literally threw up. I was crying I was so upset,” said DiGangi, the owner of Big Pappa’s Gyros in Oak Lawn. “I love my seniors.”
Indeed she does, having gone above and beyond to take care of them, especially during the holiday season.
Last year, DiGangi served 2,300 turkey dinners to seniors and needy Oak Lawn residents in what has become a holiday tradition at her restaurant, 10806 S. Cicero Ave.
Many of the meals were served in a tent that DiGangi sets up outside her restaurant, while volunteers deliver others to homebound seniors.
Seniors also make up a significant portion of DiGangi’s customer base, which is why last week’s attack affected her so deeply.
Police continue to investigate the incident, which occurred at 1:30 a.m. when a man entered a home in the 9000 block of 51st Avenue after forcing open the front door.
The elderly resident told police she heard a loud noise prior to the offender entering the house. She checked the door and found damage, according to reports.
Moments later, she heard another loud noise and the offender entered the home, physically assaulted her and fled.
The resident was unable to contact police for more than an hour after the incident. She was treated for her injuries, which were non-life threatening.
Police do not know if the resident was targeted.
In the meantime, DiGangi has launched an initiative to make sure seniors are safe in their homes.
“I was up half the night wondering what I could do,” DoGangi said.
Eventually, she decided that offering deadbolt locks to Oak Lawn seniors would help them feel safer.
DiGangi will purchase the locks and is accepting donations of both locks or monetary donations to purchase them. She is relying on volunteers that she trusts to install them. As of Monday, 17 seniors contacted DiGangi about the locks.
DiGangi is limiting the free locks to Oak Lawn seniors or elderly couples who do not live with other family members.
“I just want to make them feel a little bit safer,” DiGangi said. “They have enough to worry about.”
Trustee Alex Olejniczak said a village meeting aimed at helping seniors become safer in their homes will be held on March 7 at Village Hall. A time has not been set for the meeting.
Olejniczak said the attack is one of the worst incidents he’s seen in his years as a trustee.
“I’m absolutely sick,” he said.
The meeting is designed to discuss ways to prevent similar occurrences.
“What can we do to stop things from happening to seniors,” Olejniczak said. “The biggest thing is, how would we prevent something like this?
Seniors often are targeted by criminals, who follow them home from banks and stores or lay in wait for them in parking lots, Olejniczak said.
Olejniczak reiterated the often-heard message that seniors should call police even
“Call no matter what,” Olejniczak said. “It’s good to know your neighbor. Help your neighbor.”
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact the Oak Lawn Police at 708-422-8292.