Italian Fest: A Signature Shoreline Event
As Jim Plunkett is happy to attest, as with all fundraising events created by St. George Men’s Group (SGMG), the annual Italian Festival started out as a good idea to provide nimble, needed response to an important cause.
Now, it’s become a signature shoreline summer event, pulling in crowds from Branford, North Branford, and beyond to enjoy the two-day extravaganza behind the St. George Catholic Church in Guilford, located at 33 Whitfield Street.
The 2023 SGMG Italian Festival is set for Friday, Aug. 25, from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday, Aug. 26, from 3 to 10 p.m. Admission is $5; ages 15 and under are free.
In addition to a huge supply of Italian food favorites (more on that later), two bands will provide live entertainment on Friday and three bands on Saturday. Family fun on both days includes the Kids Zone for kids and bocce for adults. Friday night features a spaghetti eating contest, and Saturday includes a meatball-tasting competition.
“We try to make it very welcoming to everybody,” says Jim. “It’s a great date night. I love being out under the stars on the lawn, and it’s fun just to watch people having fun.”
Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit St. Martin De Porres Academy.
“It’s a faith-based middle school providing a tuition-free, extended day education for 90 children who are underserved girls and boys from low-income families in the New Haven area,” Jim explains. “It’s an independent Catholic school, but they take on people from all faiths, religions, and backgrounds. What’s amazing is not only do they support the children in grades 5 through 8, but they stay with them in their high school and college years. Their high school graduation rate is 100%, and their college acceptance rate is 97%. So they do a tremendous job.”
Another interesting note is that St. Martin De Porres is the patron saint of social justice, racial harmony, and manual labor occupations, Jim notes.
As SGMG membership chairman, Jim says the success of the group has always relied on the commitment of its members, of which there are currently 62. Gathered from the parish and surrounding community, the members’ common goal is to answer the call for social justice through good works by being nimble, resourceful, and pulling on the talents of all members.
“We have varying degrees of skill and use the gifts that we’ve been given the best we can,” says Jim. “There are just a lot of great ideas, and everyone is extremely flexible. Basically, nothing is off the table.”
A friend invited Jim to join the St. George Men’s Group within the first year of its establishment in 2012.
“When I joined, the one thing I picked up on immediately was the vibrancy of the group and the ability to have each other’s backs. If someone had a great idea and they brought it to the group, everyone would say, let’s go for it, and we’ll work together to achieve that goal,” says Jim. “The group is very creative, dynamic, and very nimble. They can pivot on a dime to get something done.”
From the very start, the SGMG Italian Festival was an instant hit. As they do today, the group provided all of the cooking for the food served up for the crowds, including group co-founder Jim Mancini’s mom’s meatball recipe.
Since then, the festival’s gone on to become an annual summer tradition for the shoreline and the signature fundraising event for SGMG. And, yes, you can still find Mama Mancini’s meatballs among the long list of delicious specialties at the festival, all of which have been made by members.
“We’ll make anywhere from 2,500 to 2,700 meatballs,” says Jim.
Members gather in the church hall kitchen a week in advance to prepare and store the huge inventory of many foods featured at the festival.
“It’s all about getting the food prepped—and there’s a lot of prep!” says Jim.
On the “Mangia Mangia” menu this year are meatball subs, fried dough pizza, sausage and peppers, eggplant subs, pasta and meatballs, lasagna, pasta fagioli, Philly steak and cheese, hamburgers, hot dogs and fries, Caesar salad, and the raw bar, as well as offerings including cannolis, gelato, and beer and wine.
Since 2012, the St. George Men’s Group has raised and donated $330,000 to various local and national charities by producing a calendar of compelling social events, including the popular Italian Fest.
“This is our marquee event. We pull in about 1,000 people per night,” says Jim, who also heads up the festival’s raw bar booth.
“Everyone just pitches in wherever they’re needed,” Jim says. “What I’ve always felt is that this is an ordinary group of men that do extraordinary things. And that’s just a wonderful thing to be a part of.”
The 2023 festival arrives with the assistance of Gold Sponsors Horton Group and The Guilford Foundation; and by partnering with Guilford Savings Bank.