NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A Bronx business owner is being recognized for his generous efforts to ensure his Belmont community doesn’t go hungry.

Hassan Ademaj has been on a mission to give back ever since Bella Pizza opened in 2014, CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported Thursday.

“It’s in our tradition to help people in difficult times,” Ademaj said.

Ademaj fled his home in Kosovo after one of his brothers was killed during the war in 1998.

Ademaj was a doctor before moving, but he couldn’t practice in the U.S. So, he opened a pizza shop to help his family start a new life.

When the pandemic hit, memories of the war resurfaced. Ademaj knew what it was like to lose everything and didn’t want anyone else to go through that.

“Free for hospitals. Free for police, fire departments, everybody who need help,” he said.

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Customers knew they could order a slice even if they didn’t have enough money.

“They show a lot of love to the community. There’s times, I came, I remember not having change and he just gave me the slice,” one customer said.

His kindness caught the eye of City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, who represents the neighborhood. Cabrera awarded Ademaj a citation from the city Thursday morning.

“Today, we came to honor an unsung hero in our community. A man that during the COVID era was giving of himself,” said Cabrera.

Bella Pizza never shut down during the pandemic. Instead, the shop hired more staff members to keep up with the pizzas they were giving away.

“We help. We feel good. This is the most important thing,” Ademaj said.

Ademaj said that’s what practicing medicine is all about. He’s now studying to re-certify as a doctor in New York.

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