New Castle News

March 26, 2013

Photo Gallery, Story: Pizza cook-off aids autism support group

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — More than 500 people packed the Mohawk High School cafeteria Saturday night.

Some waited more than 90 minutes just to get in. What could bring this many people to overrun a school on a weekend?

Only pizza.

It was the first Autism Warriors Pizza Cook-off, and visitors paid $5 each to sample various types of pizza from 10 New Castle area pizza palaces. Each restaurant donated all the pizza for the night, and proceeds benefitted Autism Warriors.

Autism Warriors is a Lawrence County autism support group. It is dedicated to raising awareness about autism and supporting those affected by autism in  Lawrence County. It advocates for individuals with autism, and seeks to raise money for finding a cure and ensuring a better quality of life for these individuals.          

The group was founded in October by Carla Gentile and Gretchen Murphy, both special education teachers in the Mohawk district, who also headed up Saturday’s event. They have had between 15 and 20 families regularly attending the group’s meetings.

“There are lots of support groups in bigger cities. We found we needed one here,” Murphy said.

“Many parents have to travel to Pittsburgh to find the resources,” Gentile noted. “We are trying to make a local, Lawrence County group.”

Autism Warriors meets monthly at the Mohawk schools, but it is open to all Lawrence County residents, not just those who live in the Mohawk district, Murphy added.  

Proceeds from the pizza cook-off will help the group bring in speakers, host round table discussions and offer support to the families of those with autism.

The cook-off sold out of its 500 tickets a day early, and some who wanted to attend were turned away. Those who did get in, though, were thrilled with the pizza buffet they found, and no one left hungry.

In addition to the buffet, a panel of eight “celebrity judges” sampled and selected best pizzas in several categories, and attendees had the chance to win a new iPad and a prom dress, as well as various other prizes in various Chinese auctions and raffles.

The event was an overwhelming success. “We never expected it to be anywhere near as big as it turned out.” Gentile said. “The pizza cook-off will be an annual event.”