AKRON – Angelo Antognoli’s heart for people is shown in his concern for the hundreds who come to the Gennesaret Family Nutritional Center twice a week for hot meals.
“To be honest, it benefits me more than the people I’m serving. I don’t know what I would do with myself if I didn’t have this,” said Antognoli, 83. “The people who come in here are wonderful – you can’t judge people. You have to remember that any of us could be in their shoes. All I know is that everyone here has been good to me and they loved my wife.”
Antognoli and his late wife, Sally, began volunteering at the soup kitchen more than 20 years ago. When she died in January, he decided to continue the mission they started together at Gennesaret: showing the love of Christ by serving people in need.
Gennesaret, an all-volunteer charity that is managed by a board of directors, provides long-term housing for homeless two-parent families in Summit County and free hot meals and groceries every Tuesday and Saturday to needy families and individuals at its nutritional center in Akron.
The center, formerly an automotive shop, was renovated four years ago through a $350,000 donation in labor and materials from Testa Cos. and several of its subcontractors. Antognoli, whose late son, Anthony, worked for Testa, was instrumental in connecting Testa and the nonprofit Gennesaret.
“I had known CEO Paul Testa for years. I met him years ago when working construction. He was just starting out as a builder,” Antognoli said. “Because I knew he was a man who likes to give back, I told Tony to ask him if he would help. The building was a mess. It was a major undertaking.”
When asked, Testa agreed to help because he was inspired by Gennesaret’s mission and the fact that the nonprofit is funded entirely through grants and individual donations. At the root of his altruism is his Christian faith. His real estate, construction and development company added a philanthropic arm in 1996 called “Operation Dreams Come True” to help families and organizations in need.
“God has been good to us, and we want to make a difference. When you’re blessed, you want to be a blessing to others,” Testa said. “I’m a sinner, and I want to do what I can to make up for it. And, fortunately, we work with some subcontractors who like to give back to the community, too. Getting this place renovated was a team effort.”
The renovation, practically a complete interior rebuild, was finished just before Gennesaret’s “Home Run for the Homeless” in 2010. The annual race, which attracts thousands of runners and walkers on Thanksgiving morning, is the sole fundraiser to benefit Gennesaret’s mission throughout the year.
“We’re just people trying to help people. We appreciate everything that anyone can do to help us meet the needs of the homeless in our community. It’s people like Angelo and the Testas that make what we do possible,” said Bob Dirgo, president of Gennesaret’s board. “I can’t say enough about the humility of the people who volunteer. They don’t look for credit; they do it because they care about people and they do it quietly. It’s so inspiring.”
Dirgo and his wife, Mary, founded Gennesaret in 1986. The couple, along with more than 300 volunteers that include daughters Swati, 13, and Kajal, 11, work year-round to provide a safe place that is responsive to the needs of the area’s homeless.
“It’s all about treating people the way you want to be treated,” said Antognoli. “People deserve to be treated with respect no matter where they are in life. That’s what happens here; we all respect each other and care for each other.”