By Peg DeGrassa
UPPER PROVIDENCE, Pa. — Maybe it was all the prayers to St. Anthony going on near the St. Anthony di Padova Society’s booth. Or maybe it was just a stroke of pure Italian luck. Looming overcast skies with threats of impending rain seemed to pass as the afternoon wore on, causing the sun to shine on hundreds of people and dozens upon dozens of vendors and exhibitors at the seventh annual Italian American Heritage Festival in Rose Tree Park.
The event, held each year on the first Sunday in June, is presented by the Coalition of Italian American Organizations of Delaware County (CIAO Delco) to promote Italian-American Culture and heritage. Entertainment, activities, music and family fun drew crowds, but it’s the authentic Italian food that keeps people coming back year after year. Food vendors included local favorites such as Springfield Pasta, Rigatoni’s Pasta & Grill, La Locanda, Esposito’s Porchetta, Mamma Maria’s Ristorante, Cipolloni Catering, TN Homemade Kitchen, Rocky’s Catering, Tutto Fresco and many others. Huge tents were set up in the park, with tables and chairs, to give diners a place to relax and eat lunch or grab a quick bite to eat.
For those with a sweet tooth, booths full of Italian specialty cakes, pastries and cookies were in no short supply. Varallo Brothers Bakery, Viso’s Bakery, Carol’s Pizzelles, Christopher Chocolates, Testa’s Bakery, Café Gelato and Anne Marie’s Torroni and Sweets were among the multitude of sweet table vendors. Additionally, an Italian cooking contest took place to name the #1 Gravy Master Champion 2016 and the #1 Meatball Champion 2016. Krissi Biasiello, fourth place winner of Master Chef’s fourth season, held periodic cooking demonstrations throughout the day and author/cook extraordinaire Elisa Constantini signed copies of her new Italian cookbook.
To work off all those extra calories, attendees could walk to the many activities that took place throughout the park. Bocce ball, an Italian car display, raffles, a Kid’s Field of Fun with bounce houses and face painting, Italian language lessons and plenty of music for listening or dancing seemed to keep the day lively and interesting. Entertainers included Coro Gabriele D’Annunzio, Tre Bella, Pennsport String Band, Vito Lombardo, and the Neglia Band. Additionally, authors and artists exhibited their creations, local businesses exhibited products and novelty vendors sold everything from t-shirts and jewelry to jackets and toys.
Nonprofit groups also joined the festivities, including Andy’s Friends Cat Rescue, Values in Action, SPCA of Delco, ALS, Save Marple Green Space and Friends of the Foggiani.
Ciao Delco is composed of eight local organizations dedicated to promoting the vitality and longevity of Italian-American culture. Participants include Associazione Regionale Abruzzese Delco, Associazione Regionale Abruzzese Delaware Valley, Christopher Columbus Memorial Association, Filitalia Delco, Justinian Society, St. Anthony di Padova Society SWP, Societa` Da Vinci and Sons and Daughters of Italy District 5. Board members are Dr. Thomas Benedetti, Joe Cannavo, Dr. Sam Cimino, Dr. Jack Colombo, Cav. Anthony D’Alessandro, Gaetano DiPasquale, John Lacca, Marguerite Miller and Rose Vaccone. Vaccone and Anita Girlamo Kane, both of Eventfully Yours, Inc., produce the festival. Associate member organizations are Widener University and Neumann University.
Emceed by Master of Ceremonies Melissa Cannavo-Marino of 1450 WILM AM and 610 AM Sports, the festival kicked off with a noon opening ceremony. Announced supporters, most sitting on stage, included Hon. Judges Dominic Pileggi, Barry Dozer, George Pagano, Richard Cappelli, John Capuzzi, Chip Mackrides and Paul Panepinto; Dr. Andrea Canepari, Consulate General of Italy; Hon. Salvatore Ferrigno, president of Comites, Phila.; Mario Civera and Dave White, Delco Councilmen; state Sen. Bill Adolph; State Rep. Greg Vitali; DCNN editor Peg DeGrassa; Delaware County District Attorney Jack Whelan; Director of Parks & Recreation Marc Manfre; Director of Destination Delco Tore Fiore; Neumann University President Rosalie Mirenda; Widener University Dean of College of Arts & Sciences Dr. Sharon Meagher; Widener Professor of Modern Languages Dr. Thomas Benedetti; James Stigale, Aston commissioner and president of St. Anthony di Padova Society; Michael Paolucci, Director of Grand Lodge Sons & Daughters of Italy; Monsignor Ralph Chieffo, pastor of St. Mary Magdalen Church in Upper Providence; Thomas Giancristoforo, Tinicum council president; and Herb MacCombie, engineer of Lazaretto Revitalization Project.
The 2016 Delaware County Italian American Heritage Festival was sponsored by Cento Foods and DeLallo Foods. Other sponsors included Crozer Keystone Health System, Creative Financial Group, Neumann University, Farmer’s Insurance, Widener University, PECO, Dr. Samuel Cimino, D’Anjolell Memorial Homes, D’Anjolell-Stigale Memorial Home, Maserati on the Main Line, Springfield Country Club/Tavola Restaurant and Bar, WJBR, and many other patrons and volunteers.
Sponsors allow the festival to remain free of charge for the community and support the CIAO Delco charities which include the Knights of Columbus, the Italian Studies and Student Exchange Program at Widener University, the American Cancer Society, the Don Guanella Group Home program and the Cooley’s Anemia Foundation.
Learn more about Ciao Delco at www.ciaodelco.org.
(Editor’s note: This article was previously published by Delaware County News Network, where Peg De Grassa is the senior editor.)