Adrian Kavanagh: On a Roll with St. George Men’s Group Italian Festival
The St. George Men’s Group (SGMG) is on a roll as its 70 members prepare every ingredient needed for a fantastic Italian Festival behind St. George Catholic Church Friday, Aug. 26 and Saturday, Aug. 27.
The incredible effort underway is definitely a hands-on proposition and something that SGMG president, Adrian Kavanagh, doesn’t take for granted.
“Last night, we rolled 2,500 meatballs by hand, individually, one at a time; and tonight, we’re back, making eggplant,” says Adrian, as perfect circles of beautifully fried eggplant began filling up trays on tables buzzing with busy chefs in the church hall.
“There’s a lot of good stuff at the Italian Festival, and it’s all handmade, and we do everything ourselves. We don’t hire anyone to do anything,” he notes. “That’s how we can raise a lot of money for charity with this event. It’s definitely our biggest fundraiser of the year.”
In addition to members of the group gathering to make it happen, the volunteer effort is also supported by family and friends, says Adrian, from members’ spouses to their kids and neighbors.
“We have kids who come in to roll meatballs and others who ‘volunteer’ through their parents,” says Adrian with a smile. “But they carry soda, they run ice for us, and they really do get involved; and in that way, it spreads down into the family. Especially for the Italian Festival; there’s a lot of people that get involved.”
Family is an important component of the foundation of SGMG, Adrian feels.
“Family is very, very important to me; and I think most of the guys in this group are very family-oriented, too. I think that’s where a lot of this effort comes from. That base through the church, up through the family and into the group, is very, very important to most of us. That’s the foundation of how it works.”
The Italian Festival usually exceeds SGMG’s annual goal of raising $20,000 to give to the charitable cause members have chosen to support. Now in its ninth year, the 2022 festival will benefit APK Charities, a Madison-based non-profit doing good for veterans in the name of the late Captain Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel. Pedersen-Keel was mortally wounded when fired upon while on Special Forces duty in Afghanistan in 2013. His family members are also congregants of St. George Catholic Church, Adrian notes.
“His dad is out there tonight helping us,” says Adrian. “His mom will be with us at the festival, too, as well as some other Gold Star families. They do a lot for veterans in need with their charity. So we have a very special relationship with APK, and we’re very glad we can assist them this year.”
Adrian retired from the U.S. Coast Guard before moving to Guilford 13 years ago with his wife, Janet. Their two children, now grown, live in Boston, MA, where daughter Colleen is a teacher and son Dillon is a biologist.
“We moved here in 2009 after I retired from the Coast Guard, and we love it. It’s been everything we wanted. We live in town, so we walk to town and walk to all the events. We walk to church. It’s great,” says Adrian.
As a member of the church, “... I was looking for something to do to contribute, and Father Shanley recommended the Men's Group,” says Adrian.
As Adrian can attest, joining this group requires a bit more than just signing up. With its stated common goal to answer the call for social justice through good works, the group relies on involved, resourceful and dedicated members to produce results that can assist with both ongoing and immediate needs brought to the group’s attention. In addition to organizing several annual events and other fundraising programs, the group also participates in many behind-the-scenes Acts of Kindness to lend additional support in the form of manpower, materials or funding that may be required.
“We’re a pretty solid group that way, but we are getting older!” says Adrian. “We welcome new members -- anybody interested get a hold of any of us and we’ll talk to you about it. We do have a vetting process where we make the applicant aware of what it is we do, and everything we do, and ask them if it’s what they had in mind.”
To date, SGMG has raised and donated $330,00 to various local and national charities through social events like the Italian Festival.
“Every single penny, which is over $300,000 now, goes to charity; and it’s all member-driven,” says Adrian. “It’s very interesting. I like to tell them I don’t do anything as president – I don’t even get to vote! It’s whatever the guys want to do, and it’s very easy for any of the guys to come up with a new idea.”
When one member suggested bringing SGMG’s famous meatballs to a vending spot at the Guilford Fair for the first time ever, the answer was a unanimous yes. Look for SGMG to be serving up meatballs in support of a good cause at the Guilford Fair, Sept. 16 to 18.
“We’re also going to do a murder mystery night here in the fall, and that’s something that we haven’t tried before,” says Adrian. “I ran a Whist tournament a few years ago, and everybody in the group said ‘What's a Whist?’ And it turned out fabulous.”
Adrian was officially inducted as SGMG president in February 2022, and will serve in the role for two years. Prior to that, he was vice president for two years. After his presidency ends, he’ll serve as immediate past president for two years.
“So I’m right in the middle of it, and its really rewarding,” says Adrian of his SGMG offices. “It’s the call to social justice. That is our purpose, and we really live by that. We’re trying to be as helpful as possible.”
“This is an amazing group,” he says. “We have 70 members, and traditionally between 25 to 30 members are at every meeting. That’s unusual for a group of volunteers. And we only meet 11 times a year -- we try to keep the meetings short and to the point and then concentrate on the events; so the chairmen of the events have some leeway.”
Being a nimble and responsive group is one of the reasons SGMG members want to get involved in the various efforts undertaken, he adds.
“You can see the results of our actions immediately,” Adrian says. “And we like to interact with the people that we help; or, when we sponsor an event, if the group we sponsor can come and tell us about their group, and what can we do to help. We want to know if there’s anything we can do beside handing you a check.”
As SGMG president, Adrian says one of the best rewards is being there to deliver SGMG support to the charitable groups and others benefiting from the work of these exceptional volunteers.
“You see the people come through that we give these checks to, and they tell us what the checks mean to them. And you think, ‘Okay, $5,000 really makes a difference to this organization – we'll try it again next year.’”
Right now, everyone involved in SGMG is focused on having a fantastic Italian Festival Aug. 26 and 27. The fest will fill the lot behind the church beside the Guilford Green, located at 33 Whitfield St.
Festival fare SGMG members will be cooking up for sale include fried dough pizza , sausage and peppers, meatball subs, eggplant subs, pasta and meatballs, meatballs on a stick, lasagna, pasta fagiolli, Philly steak and cheese, hamburgers, hotdogs and fries, Caeser salad, raw bar, cannoli, and gelato. Beer and wine will be available for the 21 and over set.
Family fun is also on the festival menu with its Kids Zone; bocce for adults, Friday night Spaghetti Eating Contest and Saturday Meatball Competition. Live music all weekend features Tony V both nights (5:30 to 6:30 p.m.); Cherry Pie Band, Friday, 7 to 10 p.m.; and Center Line Band Saturday, 7 to 10 p.m.
The festival’s Gold Sponsors are Horton Group and The Guilford Foundation. SGMG’s partner organization for the event is Guilford Savings Bank.
The Italian Festival has a $5 admission fee; kids 15 and under admitted free.
“The festival is an opportunity get the community to come together,” says Adrian. “We also get people from a lot of the neighboring towns and as far as Old Saybrook. We try to offer a lot of variety. It’s a great public event, and we hope the public comes out.”