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Hernando residents give back to charitable restaurant owners

Fire engulfs Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant on Friday. The owners of the landmark business east of Brooksville, Joe and Donna Giarratana, donated to just about every charity that asked. Now, Hernando residents are scrambling to repay the favor.

Hernando County Community Relations

Fire engulfs Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant on Friday. The owners of the landmark business east of Brooksville, Joe and Donna Giarratana, donated to just about every charity that asked. Now, Hernando residents are scrambling to repay the favor.

The restaurant was plenty.

It was — and hopefully will be again — a place as perfect for a date as a kid's birthday party, a place were the servers were always friendly and professional, not to mention as strong as weightlifters. They had to be to carry those heaping plates of pasta.

Yes, just running a great restaurant for 33 years in an area not known for great restaurants would have made us forever grateful to Joe and Donna Giarratana.

And when their landmark business east of Brooksville, Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant, burned down Friday, it probably would have been enough to make customers want to help.

But Joe and Donna did more, a lot more — donated to just about every charity that asked — which is why there has been an absolute scramble to repay the favor.

"Maybe it's their turn," said Julia Jinkens.

Jinkens doesn't know what kind of help the Giarratanas might need. But on Friday she started creating a list of all the people willing to do whatever they are asked.

Jinkens received the 2012 Great Brooksvillian award because she has worked for so many causes that she has lost track. So, she is also a little short on specifics about Joe and Donna's history of charity.

"All I know," she said, "is whenever I asked, it wasn't a matter of whether they would do it. It was, 'How much do you need, and when do you need it?' "

But David Hope, who is setting up a bank account to accept donations for Papa Joe's employees — and, judging from the 2,599 likes on a Facebook page, he should get plenty — can say for sure that the restaurant's giving goes back to at least the early 1990s. Now the general manager of Merritt Funeral Home in Brooksville, Hope was then pastor of a church in Hernando Beach, and remembers the trays of Papa's Joe pasta that arrived to feed residents displaced by the no-name storm in March 1993.

Jan Knowles, president of the Friends of Chinsegut Hill, can tell you that, 20 years later, Joe and Donna were still giving; they provided food for a November fundraiser for the Chinsegut manor house.

That's not pure charity, you might think. Those kinds of events are for community leaders, potential customers.

Maybe so. But you can't say the same about clients of the Arc Nature Coast, which assists developmentally disabled residents. Papa Joe's has been a longtime supporter, including giving Arc the proceeds from its annual spaghetti charity fundraiser.

And you won't find a lot of rich restaurant patrons at the weekly dinners hosted by the Brooksville's Love Your Neighbor charity. Papa Joe's is on a rotation to feed this crowd of 200 people once a month and has been since 2007.

Nor are there a lot of wealthy, influential folks among the homeless population served by Joseph's House, also in Brooksville. Papa Joe's donates hot food for them every week, and Donna often helps serve it up, said the group's founder, Bob Francis.

Just in case you are one of the people who assumes the worst when you hear about an after-hours fire at a business, public records show none of the lawsuits or bankruptcy filings that often lead up to insurance jobs. Investigators think the fire probably started in the wiring in the ceiling of the dining room.

So, really, there are no maybes about it. It is their turn.

Hernando residents give back to charitable restaurant owners 01/27/14 [Last modified: Monday, January 27, 2014 6:09pm]
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