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08/26/2015 08:00 AM

Serving Up Support: Italian Fest 2015

Bill White and the St. George Men’s Club are getting behind Italian Festival 2015 to serve up food, fun and entertainment for a great cause Aug. 28 and 29 in Guilford. Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier

Even though last year’s Italian Festival included a soggy Saturday night, St. George Men’s Group proved they can draw a crowd and raise money for a great cause, rain or shine.

But as group treasurer, Bill White is hoping for two great days of ‘fest weather this year.

“Last year, Friday was a great night, and Saturday, we had downpours. So while we did operate Saturday night, it was a rain-out, but we still made $10,600 from the festival and all that money was donated for local fuel assistance,” says Bill. “This year, we hope to double that by having good weather both nights. Because it was such a success last year, we’re expecting large crowds this year.”

Italian Festival 2015 takes place this Friday, Aug. 28 from 5 to 10:30 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 29 from 3 to 10:30 p.m. behind St. George Church on Whitfield Street. The family fun festival celebrates Italian culture with food (including fried dough pizza, sausage and peppers, ziti and meatballs, eggplant Parmigiana, gelato, and cannolis), activities, live music, and fun for all. And it’s not just an adventure for the appetite. The fest includes very popular grape-stomping and bocce ball contests as well as a Kids Zone activity area to explore. There’s also wine, beer, and live music.

The St. George Men’s Club numbers about 60 and these guys are hands-on in more ways than one. They recently prepared scads of eggplant parmigiana and made more than 2,000 meatballs to serve up this Friday and Saturday. In fact, group members cook most of the Italian-style food sold at the festival, as well as serving up hotdogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, French fries, Philly steak & cheese, pretzels, popcorn, soda, and water.

“We have some really good cooks in the organization including Jim Mancini, who is truly leading the Italian Festival and who also led last year’s festival,” says Bill.

Mancini, a past Courier Person of the Week, is a founder of St. George Men’s Club, which organized in 2013 under the motto “Answering the call for social justice through good works.” Events and programs put on in the years since have truly made an impact.

“Since the Men’s Club started, we’ve made and given away very close to $100,000 to local organizations and charitable purposes,” says Bill.

Proceeds from Italian Festival 2015 will once again be split between Guilford Social Service’s fuel assistance program and St. George’s own fuel assistance program. To help underwrite festival expenses, including four live bands (two each night), the festival has a nominal admission charge of $3 for those 16 and over. Here’s a hint—get your ticket on Friday night.

“If you come on Friday and pay the $3 admission fee, you can bring that same ticket back on Saturday, so you only pay for one night,” Bill explains.

Friday night’s live music line-up includes Take 2 & Call Me in the Morning (5 p.m.) and Four Barrel Billy (7 p.m.). Saturday features Steam Roller (5 p.m.) and Shiny Lapel Trio (7:30 p.m.). Raffle tickets will be sold both nights with the prize drawings held about 9:30 p.m. on Saturday. First-prize ticket holder wins $1,500; second wins $1,000 and third prize is $500.

“The raffle sold out last year, so I certainly hope we sell out again this year,” says Bill, who is also the Italian Festival raffle chairman. “It certainly helps us with our fundraising; as do our corporate sponsors who’ve donated their funds to help this great cause. Putting on the Italian Fest is really made possible by the wonderful volunteer support we receive from our families, other organizations within the St. George family, and from the community and corporate sponsors.”

Bill joined St. George Men’s Club in November 2013, shortly after volunteering to help the group with a fundraising Oktoberfest.

“When I saw what these great men were doing for the community and what they offered spiritually, I felt this was a group I wanted to be involved in, especially since I had recently retired and was looking for something worthwhile to join,” says Bill.

Bill spent his entire career in the banking/credit union industry, retiring in November 2011 as senior vice president with Alloya Corporate Federal Credit Union. He and his wife, Claire (née Oppel) were married in St. George’s 43 years ago and became proud owners of their current South Fair Street home, which once belonged to Claire’s grandparents.

“In fact, Claire was also raised on South Fair Street, and has never lived on another street her entire life,” says Bill.

The Whites raised their three children here and became very involved with another charitable program based in Guilford, SARAH, soon after the birth of their daughter, Meredith (who passed away in 2011). Bill served on the Board of Directors of SARAH Tuxis for more than 10 years.

“SARAH was very good to us and to my daughter and exactly what we needed,” says Bill. “At three, she started getting services from SARAH and went on to be very involved in ACES Village School in North Haven, then lived in a SARAH group home for six years. We’re very grateful they were there to give us that support, and felt we wanted to give back.”

A Connecticut Army National Guard trained medic of 15 years, Bill also gives back to the greater shoreline community by volunteering weekly at Middlesex Hospital Emergency Room. He’s also sole caregiver for his mom, 91, a Branford resident.

At St. George’s, Bill’s a member of the Finance Committee and an usher at the 8 a.m. mass.

“This is a task I took over from my father-in-law, Clarence Oppel, who was an usher at the same mass for 40 years,” says Bill of the role. “And he had taken that responsibility over from his father-in-law, James Bergen, many years prior.”

Bill was also a Eucharistic minister for six years and a religious education instructor.

Being a member of St. George Men’s Group is another very satisfying commitment and one Bill knows is helping to make a difference in the community. Once the Italian Festival ends, Bill notes, the group will offer its popular bus trips to games at Citi Field (available to any interested community members) and will hold a Charity Golf Tournament on Saturday, Sept. 12 at Guilford Lakes Golf Course (proceeds benefit Guilford Fund for Education and students of St. Martin de Porres in New Haven).

“I have been impressed with all they’re able to accomplish for the community, as well as the spiritual and social activities of the group,” says Bill. “I’ve been very blessed to be a member of St. George Men’s Group.”

To learn more about St. George Men’s Group or for more details on Italian Festival 2015 or upcoming programs, visit