For 11-year-old Tewksbury resident Giovanna Frisella, or "Gigi," as her family and friends call her, her dedication to compassion and generosity has turned into what is sure to be a lifetime of commitment.
“She was always asking if we could volunteer somewhere," Gigi’s father, Sal, explained. "When I asked her if she wanted to help a pastor friend who was feeding the homeless in Lynn she was thrilled.”
Of course, talking about volunteering and actually doing it are two very different things and Gigi did have some concerns before her first trip to Lynn. “I was a little nervous since I didn’t know what it was going to be like,” Gigi remembered. “I was afraid that it was going to be sad and I was going to have to cry.”
It didn’t take Gigi long to realize, however, that sadness was not the case at all. “They were all so nice. They always say please and thank you and are different than I expected,” Gigi explained. “I have made a lot of friends and it makes me very happy.”
As part of the Miracle Center Church in Lynn, Gigi and her father Sal have been volunteering at the soup kitchen and serving 50 to 60 sandwiches for approximately two months. Almost immediately their sandwiches became a part of the Sunday routine and today, they can’t imagine not volunteering.
“One Sunday I wasn’t feeling well but that didn’t stop us,” said Sal. “We just can’t let these people down. In the beginning we were just there to see what it was all about but they rely on us now.”
What initially began as a “father/daughter” bonding quickly spread throughout the Frisella family. Sandwich making is a family event and mom Maryann and older brother Leo,13, are always there to help. Even Gigi’s Cousin Kelsey Pryor, 14, was inspired to start joining them on the weekly trip.
Thanks to Leo, the Miracle Center Church even has a new website. As the website coordinator, Leo has followed his sister’s example and volunteered his time to help support the work that the church does to support and feed the homeless. “Eventually we want to be able to accept donations online,” Leo explained. “But for now we have the address to send them to on the website.”
Winter is never an easy time for the homeless and as Sal explained, the church plays a large role in helping them out. “The worst part we saw was watching kids and adults come in from the cold,” he remembered. “We want to be able to get people to the church where it’s warm.”
“It isn’t just a church,” added Leo. “It feels like home to them now.”
As for mom, Maryann, she couldn’t possibly be more proud of her family. “As a parent you want to see your children appreciate what they have and, at the same time, want to help others. It is one thing, however, to want to do something and a whole other thing to actually act on it.”
Of course, without Gigi’s drive and dedication this might never have happened. Always heading to Lynn with her signature smile on her face, Gigi has truly won the hearts of the people that she is so committed to helping.
“Some of the people that we met were truly disappointed in life,” said Sal. “Now they see us coming and they smile.”
“No matter what curveballs life throws at Gigi she always smiles,” mentioned Maryann. Of course, Leo couldn’t help but add: “My sister has hit more curveballs than David Ortiz!”
As for Gigi, she is proud of her work but, at the same time, is already looking toward doing more volunteer work in the future. “My cousin and I want to do more work as we get older,” she said. “Maybe even read to kids in the hospital.”
For the Frisella family volunteering has quickly become a way of life and, without a doubt, a tradition that will continue on for a long time.
“This is just the beginning,” Sal said.