Event Brings Italy to Milwaukee

Guests sampled cheap, Italian food for a cause as The Italian Community Center (ICC) hosted one of its annual mega- fundraising events, “A Taste of Italy,” on Sunday. The food tasting showcase was created by general chairperson of the ICC, Ann Romano.

Romano says she was inspired to create the event for the ICC after visiting an Italian Festival in Illinois.

“Someone mentioned A Taste of Melrose Park, so we took a ride there, and it was put on by all the restaurants, and everything was one dollar,” Romano explained. “And I was so impressed with it, and I said to Bill ‘why don’t we do that at the Center?’ And that’s how it started.” Romano has headed the event at the ICC ever since. A Taste of Italy is well liked in the community, with 2010 marking its 15th year of operation.

A Taste of Italy was open to the public with free admission and free parking in the ICC lot. Food was served at 11:30 a.m., but the line of people anxious to try the different dishes was outside the front doors at 11:15 a.m. Romano didn’t have an exact number of attendees, but she estimated hundreds would show up.

At this year’s event, guests purchased food tickets for $1.25 and sampled several authentic Italian entrees, desserts, and beverages. The Pompeii Grand Ballroom was filled with hundreds of people who enjoyed dishes like eggplant parmesan, Sfincione (Italian pizza), Manicotti, Arancini (rice balls), calamari, pasta, and meatballs. Festa Hall offered a variety of Italian desserts such as gelato, cannoli, spumoni, and éclairs.

“A Taste of Italy” also offered live entertainment. All of the bands donated their time and talent to the event.

Food donors very important

“A Taste of Italy” relies heavily on donations from local food companies to support the event and to allow the ICC to sell the samples at a low price. “If you don’t have the food donations and the monetary donations you cannot sell it for a dollar and a quarter a serving,” Romano said.

Some of the local companies that donated food for the 2010 event were listed in a press release. The list includes Patrick Cudahy’s Pavone Deli Company, Grande Cheese, Palermo’s Pizza, and Klement’s Sausages. Glorioso’s on Brady also donated food and set up a booth where guests could buy the restaurant’s famous pitted olive salad and bread sticks. DaVinci Italian Food Products donated 200 pounds of pasta and Joe, Maria and Luigi Vella of Sciortino’s Bakery donated all of the rolls to “A Taste of Italy”.

Volunteer-run event

A Taste of Italy is fully operated and staffed by Italian Community Center volunteers. Romano says the Italian Community Center is the largest of its kind in the county, and loyal volunteers play an important role in fundraising events such as this one.

Gina Manning is one of those volunteers. She and her husband George have been members of the ICC for over 30 years and were selling tickets at this year’s event. “It’s a very successful event. It’s a fundraiser and we appreciate everybody’s help,” Manning said. “It’s important because as volunteers we’re supporting this event. Everything is family oriented here.”

Loyal volunteers such as the Mannings lined the ICC. Some came from large groups and organizations, such as the Pompeii Men’s Club, Holy Crucifix Society, and Milazzese Social Club. Others were single volunteers that were gracious enough to donate their time to sell tickets, help set up and serve food, and help clean up. Members of the Taste of Italy Committee were also present.

Funds crucial to the upkeep of the ICC

“A Taste of Italy” also holds an annual raffle to bring in more donations for the Italian Community Center. This year, the grand prize, valued at $1,200, was a ruby/diamond cocktail ring, donated to the event by Glorioso’s Gold Imports & Diamond Center. Second prize was roundtrip airfare tickets, courtesy of Midwest (now Frontier) Airlines. Third prize was a 42-inch flat screen television.

Every dollar raised is crucial in keeping the Italian Community Center afloat. Romano says “A Taste of Italy” is the ICC’s second largest fundraising event, with Festa Italiana coming in first place. “The success of ‘A Taste of Italy’ helps the ICC continue its mission in Milwaukee,” she said in a press release. Last year, “A Taste of Italy” brought in over $21,000 in four hours, according to Romano. No immediate word on how successful this year’s event was.

Crowd pleasing event

Guests young and old, new and experienced lined the halls of the ICC to get a taste of Italy. Romano couldn’t give an exact number of how many people were present, but she estimated the number was in the thousands. Emily Fuger visited “A Taste of Italy” two years ago and brought her brother and his friend as first-time visitors. “It’s good food and you can drink wine at 11 am,” Fuger said. She wasn’t immediately sure if she was going to buy raffle tickets, but she was definitely interested in the prizes.

Carlos Chacon was attending the event for the second year in a row. “We came here coincidentally for another fish fry and found out that just a week later was this event, so we decided to come here again,” Chacon said as he sat patiently at a ballroom table, waiting on food to be served.