WESTFIELD, NJ – Dough, cheese, sauce, mushrooms, olives and pepperoni are among the ingredients that 10 children, half of them with special needs, used to make individual pies at a local pizza shop earlier this week.
The gathering of elementary school-aged youths at Outta Hand Pizza, 311 South Ave. West, on Sunday, included lessons from the local shop’s owners and hors-d'oeuvres for parents.
Outta Hand owner Burim Regjaj partnered with the nonprofit, Mini Socialites Foundation, which provides social experiences to children with special needs, for the afternoon of tossing dough, slopping sauce and dropping toppings.
Regjaj said he was inspired to host the cooking class after he saw an online video of Westfield’s Kira Bianchino, 16, cooking in Disney World last year. The family took the video during a trip sponsored through the Mini Socialites Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Warren-based therapeutic services firm, Mini Socialites.
“I was truly impressed,” Regjaj said, referring to Kira. “She was in a cookie factory in Disney so I said ‘why don’t I invite them to make pizza.’ Cooking is an incredible activity for children with special needs.”
The Bianchino family learned pizza making at Regjaj’s shop last year and this year, Mini Socialites and Outta Hand expanded the experience to benefit more youths.
Regjaj showed the young chefs how to knead dough and the best way to properly spread sauce. He provided the budding cooks with pepperoni, olives and other toppings, which they adorned their creations with before the Outta Hand baked the personal pies.
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What did Sean, an 8-year-old from Westfield, top off his pie with?
“Olives, pepperoni and a just a big, giant mountain of dough,” Sean said.
Indeed, Sean piled up the dough to form a cone-shaped top to his pie. But when it came time to eat the pie, Regjaj removed the steaming cone of crust, making the pizza’s edible part more accessible.
As her pizza baked, Emersyn, an 11-year-old from neighboring Scotch Plains, said she enjoyed flipping the dough and, perhaps, tasting the toppings.
“I could eat olives, mushrooms and pickles every day for the rest of my life,” said Emerysn, who attended the pizza lesson with her brother, Jonah, 10. Asked for clarification, Emersyn noted that pickles were not among the pizza topping on offer Sunday.
Mini Socialites founder and owner, Megan Sheehy, of Warren, who helped organize the afternoon, said she knows caring for special needs children can draw attention away from typically developing children in families where siblings have special needs.
It is why, Sheehy said, she geared Sunday’s activity and others, which her nonprofit hosts, toward the entire family.
“You have the parents over here completely socializing with other parents, while the children are fully engaged by staff and new friends enjoying a commonality,” Sheehy said, as the youths dined. “They all like pizza. It’s just super simple.”
Email Staff Writer Matt Kadosh at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattKadosh