Happy Joe's Holiday Party for Special Kids

Dec 5, 2017

Happy Joe Whitty greeting his guests for the annual holiday party.
Credit WVIK News / WVIK News

This week, Happy Joe's is treating kids with special needs with a party.  

It's the 45th year the pizza and ice cream chain has hosted holiday parties for children with disabilities.  Tuesday and Wednesday at the TaxSlayer center in Moline, DJs, dancers, and other entertainers are performing for hundreds of children and their caregivers.

"Happy" Joe Whitty, founder and owner, says this party means as much to him as it does the kids.

"They talk about this months ahead and the teachers say they can't wait to be here for this.  So this is the best Christmas I could ever have and you shed a few tears and a few laughs by watching what goes on here today."

His daughter Kristel Whitty-Ersan says it all started in 1972 when a mom asked Happy Joe for permission to bring her child to eat at his restaurant.  

"He was kinda like 'why would you ask permission?'  She said he had special needs and he has somethings that sometimes people don't appreciate him in the restaurants.  He said to bring him in, he's absolutely welcomed.  It got him thinking about it and he decided I wonder how many other kids and families are staying home because they don't think they are welcome."

A few school districts couldn't afford transportation.  So Happy Joe paid for the busses to bring them to one of the four parties today and tomorrow.  38 kids came to that first party for special needs children.  Now Happy Joe's employees are expecting over 1,500.