First responders from Peters Township enjoyed a sweet and savory surprise on September 9th, when the young cheerleaders personally delivered dinners, pastries and thank you cards ahead of 9/11.
“Our project for September is to recognize our neighbors, our friends, our families. Some of them volunteer their time, but they put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Shannon Villani, president of the Peters Township Youth Cheerleading Association (PTYCA). “(We want to) express our appreciation to them.”
The 21st anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the country’s soil marked the first time PTYCA donated meals and treats to first responders in the area. But thanking local firefighters is nothing new to the Villani family.
The family donated time and dinners to Pittsburgh firefighters and emergency responders as part of a project started by Josie White in 2015.
“So we cooked dinner for Station 19, my childhood fire station,” Villani said. “We really got to know all those guys.”
When COVID-19 hit, Villani said, her family couldn’t continue cooking for Station 19. Last year, when the world returned to some semblance of normalcy, she spearheaded a drive to donate cookies and cards for her children’s teams.
“My daughter started cheerleading and my son plays football. Last year I saw an opportunity to include them in Random Acts of Kindness,” Villani said.
When the enthusiastic mother of four took over as PTYCA president this year, she proposed that dinner and desserts be delivered to local emergency responders on the Friday before 9/11.
One parent, Eric Nelson, owns Bonefish Grill and jumped at the chance to donate meals to Peters Township firefighters and police.
“I just can’t say enough nice things about (Eric) and his generosity,” Villani said. “Eric has already spoken to other suppliers he works with to join next year.”
Nelson and Villania’s husband are New York natives, and the initiative has a special place in their hearts.
The arrival was also special for the cheerleaders and their families. Deputy Caputo and firefighter and paramedic Zach Balas toured the station and helped the girls into the fire truck. The cheerleaders were introduced to firefighting equipment, and some tried their hand at the forced entry simulator, where firefighters practice breaking down doors as part of rescue training.
“It was a lot of fun looking around the firehouse,” said Arianna Spolter, 8. “I love the firemen. They help us a lot.”
Teige Villani, 8, who plays soccer for the Termites, was honored to be a part of the occasion.
“They saved New York,” he said of the first responders. “They are our heroes and they are protecting Peters.”
PTYCA Assistant Coach Jen Gantzer said this was her daughter’s first volunteer experience and it was great.
“We’re really trying to get her to do service, in addition to having fun with her friends,” Gantzer said as she watched Violet and her fellow cheerleaders climb into the fire truck. “It was a real pleasure and fulfillment to do this community service and really just say thank you to our firefighters. They deserve so much.”
Villani said she was proud of the cheerleaders and their families for participating in the event. He is already planning for next year.
“The families at Peters have been so generous. It’s just a really nice way to give back and say thank you,” she said. “We hope to make it an even bigger event next year. Every year we just hope to keep improving the program.”
Because, Villani said, first responders in the area deserve something special.
“They invest a lot of time and a lot of effort in the community. Their families sacrifice a lot,” she said. “I want the children to see them in a positive light. I think it’s important for cheerleaders to give back and recognize that this is bigger than you. The girls are super sweet and always excited to help.”