Surrounded by family and friends, Merita Saliu was all smiles on Monday evening, saying, “What an honor, we have lived the American dream,” as she accepted the Community Builder Award presented by McKinney’s Free Masons St John’s #51 Lodge.
Merita and her husband Eddie, owners of Sicily’s in McKinney, were selected to receive the award by a committee headed by Lodge member Joe Ellenburg. Ellenburg, who is an Assistant Chief with the McKinney Police Department, said the award has been given each year since 1991 to a non-Mason who exemplifies duty and service to the community. As he prepared to present Merita with the award, Ellenburg said that the Salius “have made countless contributions to our community.”
Those contributions include purchasing the first bicycle for the McKinney Police Department in order to establish the Bicycle Unit, taking in a refugee family escaping the war in Kosovo and providing them with employment, education and translation needs, donating to a multitude of local charities, and taking in four foreign exchange students over the years. The Saluis also stepped up when a McKinney fireman, and years later a policeman, lost their lives. Eddie and Merita opened their restaurant to the public on a Monday, the only day of the week they are closed, in order to raise funds for the families of the fallen. They donated the food, their time and 100 percent of the proceeds, totaling more than $50,000 to the families.
Eddie and Merita Saliu immigrated to the United States from Macedonia, met and married in New York and arrived in North Texas in 1985. They opened Sicily’s restaurant, 1502 W University Dr, in 1992, and raised their two boys, Dritan and Artan, who were often on the premises. Sicily’s soon became a favorite spot for members of McKinney’s police and fire departments. Serving up great food at affordable prices, customers found that the Salius also fostered a feeling of family to their customers.
Over the years, the Saliu’s have provided employment opportunities to McKinney’s high school students. Amanda Allen McAfee, who began working at Sicily’s when she was 16, said she worked at Sicily’s nine and a half years. “They (the staff) were a family to me. I had a lot of second families during the time I worked there — the staff, the customers — we all knew each other and we were part of each other’s lives.”
McKinney Police Officer David Rodriguez said, “The culture that the Saliu’s fosters is infectious — everyone is family.”
Merita said that she was very surprised when Ellenburg stopped by the restaurant in early September to share the news that she and her husband had been selected to receive the Community Builder Award. “Joe (Ellenburg) came into eat and he said, ‘I need your first and last names.’ I didn’t tell Eddie because I wanted it to be a surprise. I was so honored and excited,” Merita said. Due to a family illness, Eddie was not available Monday to accept the award.
Merita said their relationship with their customers, especially members of the police and fire departments, has been “an excellent experience. We’ve made family and we’ve made friends.”
One thing that stands out to her over the years? She says it was the shooting that took place at the Public Safety Building on Aug. 17, 2010. “I was in Colorado and heard about it on CNN. I didn’t know what was happening to my friends. Eddie cooked for the whole building because they were under lockdown.”
The freemasons are the oldest and largest non-religious, non-politcal charitable organization. St. John’s #51 Lodge is the second oldest non-profit established in McKinney, following the First Christian Church.