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Londonderry High School sophomores Yini Liang and Abby Espaillat served up pizza slices to hungry customers during Thursday's Pizza Wars charity event. The night's proceeds were donated to Autism Speaks, a nonprofit that researches autism and assists those who live with it. (APRIL GUILMET/Union Leader Correspondent)

Londonderry students serve slices for charity

LONDONDERRY — For a group of conscientious Londonderry High School students, raising awareness and funds for children and adults living with autism was as easy as pie.

On Thursday night members of the school's National Honor Society sponsored their first annual "Pizza Wars" fundraiser.

Proceeds from event admission, as well as a separate bake sale and Red Sox ticket raffle, were donated to Autism Speaks, an organization that funds research and advocacy for those with autism and their families.

Teacher Mary Shank, who serves as the group's staff advisor, said the event was inspired by fundraising efforts for the nonprofit that took place at the school earlier this year.

Shank said about 50 students volunteered to serve pizza at Thursday night's event, which by all accounts was a successful one.

About a half hour after the doors in the school cafeteria opened, over 100 guests had purchased event tickets. Students and staff are hoping to make Pizza Wars an annual tradition.

Ten pizza shops from the greater Londonderry area participated in the Pizza Wars fundraiser, including Prosciutto's, Grand Slam Pizza, Fratello's Restaurant, Season's, Market Basket, Jake D's, Haley's Pizza, Juliano's, Giovanni's Pizza and Capri Pizza, while Coca Cola in Londonderry donated beverages.

Guests had the chance to vote on their favorite cheese, pepperoni and specialty pies, with recognition given to each category winner.

"They get to have bragging rights," Shank said.

Teacher Crystal Rich, staff advisor for the school's Athletic Leadership Council, said her students had raised nearly $5,000 for the cause last fall, during a school-wide Autism Awareness Week.

Rich's young daughter, Gracie, has autism and over the years, the little girl has made many friends at the local high school.

"We have some really amazing, caring kids at this school," said Rich.

Senior Maeve Holland, a member of the Athletic Leadership Council, staffed an information booth during Thursday's event, where guests could make donations to Autism Speaks and learn more about the organization.

Holland was one of about 60 students to participate in the Walk Now For Autism Speaks event, held at Southern New Hampshire University in late September.

Wearing a "Gracie's Gang" T-shirt in honor of Rich's walking team, Holland said student efforts at the school included sales of Autism Speaks rubber bracelets and handmade fleece scarves made in puzzle-printed fabric to resemble the charity's logo.

"For a couple days there, almost every kid in school was wearing these scarves," she said. "Our fundraising really exceeded our expectations."

Holland noted that Gracie's zest for life serves as an inspiration to many.

"You look at her and you realize that yes, autism changes life," she said. "But that doesn't mean people can't live their lives to the fullest."


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