When there's a will, there's a way. This phrase applies equally to this year's Papa Joe's Annual Pasta Fest, drive-thru service only, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, at Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant, 6244 Spring Lake Hwy, Brooksville, and to the organization that the event benefits, Pace Center for Girls Hernando.
As Papa Joe's celebrates its 39th anniversary this year, this family-owned Brooksville institution--co-owned by "Papa Joe" and Donna Garratana--wasn't about to miss the benchmark fund-raiser that, over the years, has helped to raise more than $200,000 for charities. Those included have been Hurricane Andrew Relief Fund, Special Olympics, Dawn Center, Women’s Resource Center, Habitat For Humanity, St. Jude’s Hospital, Local Church Youth Ministries, Take Stock In Children, The ARC Nature Coast, The Jericho Road Ministries, Mary’s House, Love Your Neighbor, Live Oak Theatre, NAMI, and Hernando Co. Veteran’s HEAT Factory.
"Papa Joe’s first annual .99¢ Anniversary All-You-Can-Eat Pasta Fest was held in October of 1982, our first anniversary. But it wasn’t until Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 that it was utilized as a fund-raising tool to help others. After the hurricane, Joe and Donna wanted to do what they could to help those hit hardest," read information prepared for the Hernando Sun by Papa Joe's staff. "So, they rallied the support of our surrounding community through the Pasta Fest, raising financial aid during the event so that it could be sent to help those people devastated by the hurricane....Over $200,000 has been raised and donated over the years between the annual Pasta Fest and Papa Joe’s Cooking Show which was also started to help raise awareness for some of our local non-profit organizations that do so much to help our community and are in need of financial support by the community."
Due to lingering concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's Pasta Fest would have to be conducted a bit differently--drive-thru style with full CDC compliance, to maintain safe social distancing. Pasta servings will be available for 99 cents that day, with limited side dishes also available.
"This is not the first time Papa Joe’s has utilized a “drive-thru” approach for our Annual Pasta Fest," read information supplied by Papa Joe's. "COVID-19 was not our first crisis, nor will it probably be this nation’s last. But even when Papa Joe’s burned down to the ground in January of 2014, the heart and drive of our Papa Joe’s family to continue to survive in the midst of contrary circumstances and support our community remained strong when we held our first Drive-thru Pasta Fest that same year of the fire, even with no restaurant. For the welfare of our community, since our Pasta Fest has a tendency to draw large crowds, we have chosen to utilize a “Drive-thru Pasta Fest” once again this year to maximize the safety of our customers, while not allowing the threat of this crisis to put a stop to our efforts to support those around us."
When there’s a will, there’s a way--with this edict also applying to the beneficiary of this year's Pasta Fest, Hernando County's own PACE Girls; an organization known for supplying both a will and a way to girls in need in this area.
The Pace Center for Girls in Hernando County, according to https://www.pacecenter.org/locations/hernando, was founded in 2018 to serve middle and high school girls "who are struggling but want to make positive changes in their lives. As a movement, Pace was founded in 1985 to provide an opportunity for young women and girls to create a better future through education, counseling, training, and advocacy." Pace helps more than 3,000 girls every year throughout the state of Florida.
"Papa Joe and Mama Donna have always had a heart for people and believe in pouring into the next generation. As a father and mother of one daughter and grandparents of 5 granddaughters, PACE Girls touches their hearts in a special way. There’s a lot of pressure on the youth of today, especially girls. Self-esteem and confidence in who they were created to be can quickly be lost leaving confusion and poor self-worth in its wake as they are constantly bombarded with a distorted world image of who the media appears to say they should be," read information supplied by Papa Joe's. "PACE Girls helps to remedy those drastic distortions in some of our least fortunate and troubled youth. The difference they make in these girls' lives and the character they build into them lasts a lifetime and is well worth the effort and support from our community."
And, says Diana Jerome, Community Engagement Manager – Pasco & Hernando of Pace Center for Girls, Hernando, fund-raisers such as Pasta Fest are more needed than ever to support local Pace girls.
"The funding that we receive does not cover everything that a young lady might need," said Jerome. "And in the age of COVID, the needs of these girls and their families are greater than ever."
Funds generated from Papa Joe's Pasta Fest will go to buying basic necessities like food and hygiene items and gift cards, as well as to cover the cost of those extras that motivate and brighten the days of the girls, from field trips to prizes and rewards for perfect attendance and other accomplishments.
Jerome said that, throughout the pandemic, Pace has continued to find new and innovative ways to help these young women--providing virtual academic and counseling services and helping to provide for their basic needs.
"We've never stopped," she said. "We've kept on going. We're always looking for other avenues to best serve our girls."
And with the help of Papa Joe's, these avenues stand to grow wider still.
"We're so excited by this gesture," said Jerome. "It's tremendous."
And, it seems, the girls already have given back to the restaurant; last year, in fact, the Pace girls volunteered to assist at last year's Pasta Fest.
"Before COVID, we asked the girls to do volunteer projects, to get closer to the community," said Xonjenese Jacobs, Pace social services manager. "And last year, the girls ran games and sold waters at Pasta Fest. This way the girls learn to see something beyond themselves, to help their community and also to learn more about jobs that might be available to them if needed."
Jacobs characterizes Pace girls as resilient, hardworking people who do indeed enjoy giving back--sometimes, when offered rewards, they ask for gifts and wrapping paper to pass on their prizes to parents and siblings.
"Everything they do here is part of their growth," explained Jacobs. "And with more funds coming in, we can serve more girls."
And according to information prepared exclusively for the Sun by Papa Joe's staff, that's the whole idea behind Pasta Fest; to provide a will and a way for Hernando residents in need.
"It’s been a blessing over the years to be able to help our community by bringing awareness and providing support to many non-profit organizations that do so much to take care of the needs of the people right here. That’s what “community” is all about, aiding and caring for one another," it read. "The people have supported us over the years through their continued patronage, how can we do anything less than give back by supporting those that serve our community making everyone’s lives better."