The last seven days at Oxford High School have been the most painstaking yet in the school’s short history.
There were buckets of tears and countless warm embraces as the school community grieved over the loss of 15-year-old sophomore Brandon Giordano, who died in a car accident on March 9.
But since then, something amazing also happened within the walls of the five-year-old high school: people set their grief aside for a short while and put their energy toward fundraising efforts to benefit Giordano’s family and a scholarship to be given annually in his memory. And on Friday, the high school organized a pasta dinner fundraiser that collected at least a few thousand more for the scholarship fund.
“This week was a lot of sadness and grief, but I feel like tonight starts the healing,” Glenn Lungarini, OHS vice principal and athletic director, said Friday night. “We are honoring Brandon by hosting an event that puts smiles on people’s faces, just like he did every day.”
Throughout the past week, the community has collected more than $10,000 to help the family offset the cost of funeral arrangements and other related costs, plus what has been raised for the scholarship fund.
On Friday night, students, faculty, staff, administrators, municipal officials, firefighters, police, parents and others got involved to make the pasta dinner an astounding success.
More than 600 people attended three seatings in the high school cafeteria – and more than 100 volunteers made it run smooth. Attendees ate pasta, meatballs, sauce and salad donated by local restaurants. Four restaurants in particular gave tremendous donations: , , and donated a majority of the food, said Anna Rycenga, the town’s zoning enforcement officer who helped collect donations on the municipal government side and helped reach out to local businesses, which donated 300 boxes of pasta, 60 jars of sauce, 40 loaves of bread and other food.
“It’s amazing to see the town unite like this,” Rycenga said.
Deborah Sherman, a parent who volunteered by serving pasta and meatballs on Friday, said she was impressed that the students at OHS organized much of the fundraiser on their own.
Parent volunteer Nancy Bauer said the reaction of students to the tragedy has been quite impressive.
She said that seeing student messages on Twitter and Facebook have been both heart wrenching and heart-warming.
“They have shown tremendous strength throughout this time,” Bauer said.
Laura and Brian Greco volunteered Friday night alongside Sherman and Bauer. The Grecos, whose son was Giordano’s teammate on the OHS football team, said the football players have rallied around each other and found support within themselves.
“They have become one big support system,” Laura Greco said.
Brian Greco said: “Being in different towns, I’ve seen these types of things happen before, but I’ve never seen a community come together like this.”
First Selectman George Temple and Selectman Jeff Haney, who both have sons on the football team, said the support shows what Oxford is noted for: strength and citizenship.
“We were tested, and we really came through,” Haney said.
Temple said the entire high school and the Oxford school district has done a great job to honor Giordano’s memory and help the family and others to heal following the accident.
“This has made the kids stronger than they ever were,” Temple said.
OHS football booster club organizers Rachel Dargenio, president, and Kelly Zareski, collected tickets at the door, while several other volunteers sold tickets, cupcakes and dished out food on Friday as people waited for seats to open up.
“You hope and think that if something terrible like this would happen that the students would all step up,” Dargenio said. “But to see if actually happen is amazing.”
Jeanmarie Winger, an OHS Drama Club student, was friends with Giordano. She said Friday’s dinner was supposed to be a fundraiser for the Drama Club. Instead, the Drama Club decided to forgo donations and instead hold the dinner for Giordano’s scholarship fund.
“It’s surreal to see this many people attending,” Winger said.
High school Booster Club President Kathy Weisgable, who has a child in the Drama Club, said this shows the unselfishness of students.
“All kinds of organizations came together for this, it didn’t matter who it was,” she said. “I didn’t know the young man, but he was part of this community, and we need to do something to keep his memory alive.”
Lungarini said the following organizations were instrumental in putting the pasta dinner together: OHS Booster Club, OHS Drama Club, OHS football team, OHS cheerleaders, OHS student council, Oxford Town Hall employees, OHS faculty/staff/students, Oxford Fire Department, Oxford Resident Trooper’s Office and several other individual volunteers not necessarily affiliated with a club or organization.
The main individual organizers of the fundraiser were OHS student Olivia Cintron, parents Cathy Prowe and Cari Camarra, and Lungarini.
Lungarini said that because the Drama Club students gave up their fundraiser, he believes the community should reward those students by buying a ticket for the club’s upcoming performance of “Guys and Dolls.” That will be held between March 29 and March 31.
Tickets are available at the Oxford High School main office or online atwww.ShowTix4u.com. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students and seniors. (.)
“That would be a nice way for the community to kind of pay it forward for these kids,” Lungarini said.
Oxford Board of Education member Gerard Carbonaro, who has two teens on the football team and has coached the team’s offensive line, said Giordano’s mother – Angella Borrelli – has been amazingly strong throughout the tragedy. She attended Friday’s pasta dinner and thanked everyone.
“She’s more worried about the kids and how they are coping than she is about her own pain,” Carbonaro said. “Her strength comes from the support and togetherness of the community. We need to make sure she continues to get that support after the smoke clears.”