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Dinner benefits family of girl killed in fire

| Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009

What started as a fundraiser for the Grandview Elementary School PTO became a community effort Tuesday to reach out to a grieving family.

"It started out that we wanted to have a spaghetti dinner as a fundraiser for the PTO," said Cheryl Dutch, PTO treasurer. We already had the date and everything set up.

"Then one day I rode past the house, and it just hit me."

That house, a few blocks from the school at 923 Corbet St., was heavily damaged in a Jan. 30 fire that claimed the life of 17-year-old Brandy Horton.

Brandy was a senior at Highlands High School who had attended elementary school at Grandview.

"One look at the house was devastating," Dutch said. "The house, itself, was bad. But to imagine a child in there was just unbearable."

That's when Dutch started calling and text-messaging other PTO board members with the suggestion of turning the spaghetti dinner into a fundraiser for the Horton family.

The PTO members picked up the idea and ran with it.

What followed was a frenzied two weeks of preparations that expanded as the PTO began advertising the event, which was served yesterday evening in the Grandview cafeteria.

"We went from thinking 200 (people) to 1,500 in days," said Liz Thimons, the PTO secretary.

Dutch and Thimons said the PTO cooked 375 pounds of spaghetti and had 20 five-gallon containers of sauce.

What PTO members found gratifying was not only the community members who bought tickets but those who stepped forward with donations.

"We have a wonderful chef from Hoffstot's in Oakmont who cooked all our sauce," Dutch said, referring to Brian Leri of Tarentum. "He has two kids who go to Grandview.

"When he saw the flyer we sent home with the children, he called me and offered to do whatever he could."

Thimons said Leri did all of it on his day off, using the kitchen at Hoffstot's, which also donated about 90 percent of the sauce as well as some pasta.

Grandview parents also donated pasta sauce.

Carolyn Piskor, another Grandview PTO member who works at Oakmont Bakery, paid for and baked several sheet cakes and several dozen cupcakes for dessert. The owners of Oakmont Bakery also donated bread and rolls for the dinner.

But there were still more donations that came in. They ranged from free printing of the tickets by Costello Printing and Graphics in Tarentum to a $1,000 check from John Greco, owner of J.G.'s Tarentum Station Grille and prizes for a Chinese auction from others.

"There was a list of about 50 businesses and every single place donated something," Thimons said.

Tickets for adults were priced at $5 each and $2.50 for children.

Even before the doors opened yesterday afternoon, Dutch said all 500 tickets allotted for take-out orders had been sold and they were expecting plenty of people to buy tickets at the door.

The PTO hoped to raise at least $5,000 for Horten's family to use as it sees fit.

Any leftovers from the dinner were donated to the HOPE Center, a domestic violence shelter in Tarentum.

While getting an event of that size organized meant a lot of work for the PTO members, they seemed to enjoy it.

"Not hard, just time-consuming," Dutch said. "We're doing a lot in a short amount of time. I think we've all had fun doing it."

"Any issues we have with the spaghetti dinner are minimal compared to what they (Horton family) are going through," Thimons said.

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