Person of the Week
DePalma Helps St. George Men’s Group Cook Up CDR Support, Italian Style
Steve DePalma has happily—and handily—headed up the fried dough pizza booth at St. George Men’s Group Italian Festival since its inception. After a year’s hiatus due to COVID, the 2021 Italian Festival is back to make a saucy splash this Friday, Aug. 27 and Saturday, Aug. 28 behind St. George Church in downtown Guilford, 33 Whitfield Street. (weather permitting). All festival proceeds will benefit non-profit Community Dining Room of Branford. (Photo courtesy of Steve DePalma)
As a member of St. George Men’s Group (SGMG), Steve DePalma has happily—and handily—headed up the fried dough pizza booth at SGMG’s Italian Festival since its inception. After a year’s hiatus due to COVID, the eighth SGCMG Italian Festival is back to make a saucy splash this Friday, Aug. 27 and Saturday, Aug. 28 behind St. George Church in downtown Guilford, 33 Whitfield Street. All festival proceeds will benefit non-profit Community Dining Room (CDR) of Branford, which supports shoreline residents in need from East Haven to Old Saybrook.
“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year,” says Steve of the Italian Festival, which features fantastic food, live music, and lots of family fun, Italian-style.
“Every penny that’s raised, once we’ve paid our expenses, will go to the CDR,” says Steve.
Admission to the festival, $5 (ages 15 and under enter free), together with any food tickets purchased to exchange for the enormous variety of Italian favorites, fair food, and delicacies at the booths, will all add up to help SGMG raise money for CDR.
Weather permitting, the festival will kick off on Aug. 27 from 5 to 10 p.m. with a second day of fun set for Aug. 28 from 3 to 10 p.m.
First and foremost, its all about eating some great Italian food, or “Mangia, Mangia,” as SGMG members like to say. In addition to fried dough pizza, the fest will serve up Italian specialties including sausage and peppers, meatball subs, eggplant parmigiana subs, pasta and meatballs, meatballs on a stick, lasagna, pasta fagioli, a raw bar, Caesar salad, cannolis, and gelato as well as fair food staples like Philly steak and cheese, hamburgers, hotdogs, fries, and, for adults, beer and wine.
Family fun includes a Kid Zone, bocce for adults, and options to get in on grape stomping, a spaghetti eating contest (Aug. 27), or meatball competition (Aug. 28). Live music will fill the air both nights.
“They get bigger every year,” Steve says of the group’s Italian Festivals, which have become a shoreline fan favorite. “In 2019, we had 1,800 people come to the festival between Friday and Saturday nights.”
The Italian Festival is entirely run, organized, and staffed by members of all-volunteer SGMG, with some very appreciated additional help from their families, church parishioners, and friends.
“The guys are excited about it. All of us look forward to this event because it gives us the opportunity to all get together as a group,” says Steve. “The entire membership and their families have a good time and we all get together for a good cause.”
Steve also gives a special shout out to his wife, Elena, for her help in the fried dough pizza booth every year.
“She’s instrumental in working in the pizza booth with me. She’s a front line employee, taking the customers’ orders and collecting tickets, and giving her superior customer service,” says Steve. “She looks forward to this event and enjoys helping as well.”
It’s a busy couple of days, too.
“We’ll sell anywhere between 600 and 800 pizzas for the weekend, so it’s popular,” says Steve. “When you’re looking at homemade meatballs, homemade eggplant, [and] homemade lasagna, I would say the pizza does very well considering the amount of other excellent food we have.”
Steve has lived in Guilford since 1973 and grew up as a St. George parishioner. He has been with SGMG for 8 ½ years and was honored to have the chance to get involved at the invitation of long-time friend and SGMG Chair Jim Mancini.
“I’m not a young guy—I’ve been around a while, and I can honestly say this is the nicest group of men I’ve been around,” says Steve. “Everybody’s extremely cooperative and willing to help. It’s just been a pleasure to be involved in the group. I partake in just about every event they have; I contribute in some way. We all bring different skill sets, which is nice.”
Last week, Steve, Jim and several more SGMG members officially kicked off the fest’s culinary creativity at the church hall, making “Mama Mancini’s” secret recipe meatballs in preparation for the event.
“There were probably 15 of us, rolling and cooking the meatballs. We cooked close to 3,000 meatballs, which we freeze to be ready to use,” says Steve, adding, for the record, “and Mama DePalma can make a pretty good meatball, too!”
The inside joke is much more a sign of the camaraderie among these exceptional volunteers rather than even a hint of friendly competition between the food booths, because everything is being done to help a great cause.
“We’re all looking forward to doing the event this year, and not only because we enjoy doing it, but because we missed a year, so we’re all itching to get out there and have a strong, successful, and profitable event for the CDR,” says Steve.
CDR assists residents of East Haven, Branford, North Branford, Guilford, Madison, Clinton, Westbrook, and Old Saybrook. Based in Branford in the Patricia C. Andriole Volunteer Services Center at 30 Harrison Avenue, CDR programs feed the hungry, assist with other basic human needs by connecting clients with agencies and resource providers, and work to raise awareness about hunger and isolation in our society. CDR does not receive state or federal funds and relies on donations, grants, and contributions.
The non-profit is very grateful to SGCMG for its support, says CDR Executive Director Judy Barron.
“I think all non-profits all have the goal of bettering the world and making a difference, but to get there, we all need funding to continue our missions,” says Barron. “The SGCMG and the Italian Fest gives the CDR the opportunity to not only raise that funding, but also bring awareness of what we do to our shoreline community in a joint effort, working together. We could not be more appreciative to them all.”
As with every cause that’s supported by efforts of the members of SGMG, CDR was selected to be assisted by a vote of the membership. SGMG has assisted many important causes through the years, infusing hundreds of thousands of dollars overall into local charitable efforts.
“We have supported many community groups and non-profits on the shoreline,” says Steve. “Whatever we do is always to support a cause. Since our inception roughly 10 years ago, with all the events that we’ve done, we’ve raised just under $300,000 to give to charity.”
In addition to SGMG’s sponsorship, the 2021 Italian Festival is supported by Gold Sponsors Horton Group and The Guilford Foundation as well as through a partnership with the Guilford Savings Bank.
Everyone involved in putting on the festival is looking forward to a great event supported by big crowds, says Steve.
Following a year of COVID closures curbing festivals like this, “it seems like people are out and they want to do things,” says Steve. “So long as the weather cooperates, we’re actually anticipating a bigger crowd than 2019.”
For weather updates and much more news of the St. George Men’s Group Italian Festival, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/stgeorgemensgroup. To learn more about Community Dining Room or make a donation, visit communitydiningroom.org.