Gianna’s Caters Thanksgiving Dinner for Youngstown Students

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – For Brian Yemma, owner of Gianna’s Catering, it’s easy to give and to create smiles, he said.

In advance of the holiday, the Lowellville catering business decided to bring Thanksgiving dinner for a multiple-disabilities classroom at Volney Rogers Elementary School Tuesday afternoon.

Students were smiling, laughing and conversing amongst themselves while they wore handcrafted Native American and pilgrim headbands. They were served turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes that overflowed with gravy as well as corn, rolls and pumpkin pie. 

“We just felt led to come here and do this,” Yemma said. “It’s worth a million dollars to watch them sit here, smile and have a good time.” 

Volney Rogers, 2400 S. Schenley Ave., has been a K-8 school for the past three years after Youngstown City School District assigned new grades to its buildings, said Denise Dick, communications director for the school district. 

All of the buildings in the district were either rebuilt or expanded between 2000 and 2010, including Volney Rogers, Dick said. To have a Thanksgiving dinner at Volney for the multiple-disability students is wonderful, she said. 

“We’re thrilled that Gianna’s came in and volunteered their time,” Dick said. “It was a big hit with the kids. One little boy said, ‘The food is delicious,’ so it’s wonderful. They appreciate it.” 

When the catering business gets busy, Carmelann Maszczak, the multiple-disabilities teacher at Volney Rogers, works at Gianna’s, she said. The meal fromGianna’s may be the only Thanksgiving dinner they are able to get, she said. 

“I never asked. They just volunteered and that’s how it came to be,” Maszczak said, who has been teaching in the district for 26 years, the past four of which have been at Volney Rogers.

Maszczak supervises nine students who are diagnosed with Down syndrome, autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, she said. With 270 students and 45 teachers on staff at Volney Rogers, everyone is supportive of one another, she said.

“Everybody has their own little personality and I learn something new everyday,” Maszczak said. “They keep us going.” 

This was the first time Gianna’s Catering volunteered to bring Thanksgiving dinner to the school and they have plans to continue. The business may pick different sites each year based on where the needs need to be met, Yemma said. 

Yemma said there was hardly any planning that went into serving Volney Rogers Thanksgiving dinner, as the only major difference between this meal and others is the clientele. He credited Stacey Harklerode, who has been an employee at Gianna’s for 10 years, for thinking of the idea and it was very easy to bring it to life, she said. 

“It makes us happy,” Harklerode said. “Brian is a great, giving kind of guy. It’s a special needs class, so we felt compelled to do something nice. We have a lot, so we wanted to give back.” 

Deciding to serve multiple-disability students at Volney Rogers was a great idea and it serves as a reminder of what can happen when businesses get involved in schools, said Justin Jennings, CEO of the Youngstown City School District. 

“For them to come out and do this is a special thing and they just did it from the kindness of their hearts,” he said. “They understand what Thanksgiving is and it shows how the community in Youngstown can come together.”

Yemma bought Gianna’s last August. So far, the business has been a blessing to him and his family, he said. 

“God’s blessed me with this and my family, so now I try to give back to people,” Yemma said. 

Pictured: Stacey Harklerode, Gianna’s Catering, and Justin Jennings, Youngstown City Schools CEO, serve a multiple-disabilities classroom at Volney Rogers Elementary School’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.