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Farragut pizzerias compete, step up for charity

Think you know who has the best pizza in Farragut? The Optimist Club of West Knoxville attempted to answer that question in its first-ever Slice for Life fundraiser to benefit children diagnosed with cancer. The group raised more than $1,000 in ticket sales and donations and hopes to make the event an annual one; and next year’s is hoped to be bigger and better.

So, what does it take to be named Farragut’s favorite pizza? First it takes a good representation of the community’s pizza makers. Club members asked eight Farragut pizzerias to participate in the contest and were pleased when seven committed, each bringing at least 15 pizzas. Participating pizzerias included: Little Joe’s Pizza, Mangia Pizza & More, Mario’s Italian Pizza & Grill, Mellow Mushroom, Papa John’s Pizza, Pizza Hut and Stefano’s Pizza.

Next, community members stepped up to the plate, testing each pizzeria’s selections one by one. They filled out ballots and chose favorites in three categories: best cheese, best pepperoni and best specialty pizza. Winners to be announced.

Optimist Club member Laura Osgood and her husband Brian helped organize the event. The couple said they, “enjoy being involved in a group that helps youth.”

They were turned on to the idea of a pizza contest after reading about another club’s success in a nationwide Optimist newsletter.

Bud McKelvey, Farragut public works director, is a charter member of the West Knoxville Optimist Club. He said he wanted to be involved in the group “to be able to help out as many kids as possible.”

That’s one reason the club will donate toward childhood cancer causes. Each year, more than 12,000 children and teenagers will be diagnosed with cancer. One in every 330 Americans develop cancer before the age of 20.

Part of the money raised will be used to purchase movies, games and other entertainment for the older children admitted in the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Oncology Unit. “They get a lot of toys for young children, not as many for older ones,” Osgood said. The remaining funds will go toward helping find a cure for childhood cancer.

West Knoxville’s money will be part of Optimist International’s goal to commit $920,000 over a five-year period toward childhood cancer research at Johns Hopkins University. Studies show research is working. Thirty years ago nearly all children diagnosed with cancer died, according to Dr. Robert Arceci, director of pediatric oncology at Johns Hopkins.

Now, Arceci said, 75-percent of children diagnosed survive.

Ginger and Randy Crigger know what it’s like to be a statistic in the remaining twenty-five percent. They lost a daughter, Claire, at the age of two to a rare form of childhood cancer. “They need funding for research,” Ginger said. That’s one reason why the couple attended the fundraiser with their 14-month-old daughter, Carley. “No kid should have to go through what she went through.”

Larry Webb, owner of Mangia Pizza and More, was happy to donate toward the good cause. He had the help of his wife Cindy and daughter Samantha at the fundraiser. Webb said he wasn’t concerned about the competition. “We stand behind our product.”

The staff manning Little Joe’s Pizza table was another family affair. Daughters of “Little Joe,” Arico, Gina Inklebarger and Laura Presley, doled pizza slices. Dad, the sisters said, was on hand before the competition to check his product.

Papa John’s area supervisor Troy Louis said his company participated to help the chain be seen also as a “neighborhood pizza place.”

Optimist member Teonna Renshaw brought son Austyn and niece Hannah Lindsey to the contest. Six-year-old Austyn finished all seven of his slices. “We’re having fun enjoying good pizza for a good cause,” Teonna said.

Betty Efler and husband Milton are new members of the club, having gotten involved after retirement when they searched for some way to volunteer in the community.

The Eflers chose the Optimist Club because of their work with children. “We need to do more to help children,” Betty said. “People don’t take enough time with them these days.”


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