Traci-Larson Lee juggles a lot of things as a mother of five. to rescuing local troubled dogs to working full-time at her job at nonprofit AFS-USA.
Yet among her many goals is through District 219's Education Foundation for Excellence. The Education Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization that aims to provide additional resources outside the scope of the regular school district budget.
When brainstorming for creative ideas to generate funds to help hungry students, Lee came up with the idea of Pizza Wars! nearly two years ago.
Fast forward to today, and the center of the pizza world was at on Thursday night, as more than 450 attendees came to raise funds for the Education Foundation and crown who they thought was the best pizza vendor in the area. All in all, 12 vendors from Skokie, Niles and Morton Grove competed.
In the end,
“We were very excited,” said Kevin O’Donnell, one of the co-owners of Jet’s, a national chain based in Michigan that opened a franchise at 4112 Dempster St. roughly three months ago. “It was great to be recognized and beat out all these places that have been open for years.”
Jet’s offers four different types of deep dish pizza, but its owner believes the most distinctive offering is the one that features barbeque chicken. “It’s a unique pizza that other places do not have and it is a sweet barbeque sauce,” O’ Donnell said.
Lee said the idea for Pizza Wars came after volunteers for the foundation noticed a church in Glenview trying a similar concept and thought it would work in Skokie.
“This is just thing for the community to build awareness for the foundation,” said Lee, who used the Glenview event as a template knowing that pizza is an easy draw for lots of people.
While the Education Foundation helps D219 students in a variety of ways, some of the money raised Thursday night will help provide needy students emergency food baskets to tide them over until their families can register with local food pantries and other sources of assistance.
As of Friday, foundation officials were still tabulating how much money had been raised, but they anticipated more than $3,000 came in, which would exceed the total from 2011.
“Attendance was way up from the prior year and each year the foundation awards about $40,000 to students in need throughout our district and fundraisers like this are absolutely vital to our ability to help our students,” said Lee said.
Among those sampling slices was Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen who planned to try about three different types. “It’s a great idea,” Van Dusen said. “It’s a good fundraiser. What can be better on a cold winter night?”
Kaine Osburn, the principal at Niles West, was happy to see so many attending and giving the businesses an opportunity. “We love working with the foundation because their ideas connect the community to the school,” he said.
Besides pizza, dessert was provided by one local caterer and one local bakery.
So what were some of the favorite types of pizza?
Matt Fahrenbacher, a math teacher at Niles West for nine years, liked Nancy’s plain cheese offerings topped off with some parmesan cheese and oregano.
“I like my pizza with a little flair to it,” Fahrenbacher said. “Some of them are just cheese and tomato, but this one had more flavor to it.”
Greg Nathanson, a chemical salesman from Skokie came to Pizza Wars with his six-year-old son Sam who was busy nibbling on some of the varieties. “I love pizza and we are trying to find a good pizza place in Skokie.”
As for the event in general, Nathanson added, “I think it is a good way to bring people together and help the businesses in Skokie.”
The following pizzerias competed in this year's Pizza Wars!:
- Di Caputos Pizzeria
- Jets Pizza (2012 Winner)
- Lou Malnatis
- Organic Live
- (2011 Winner)