September 2018

Be Italian at Heart: Ninth Annual Italian Heritage Festival, September 15

Author: Carmen Hawkins DeCecco

Every September, just when you think the summer fun is over, the Italians throw a bang-up festival at the end of the season! So, don’t wind down just yet, because from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 15, the ninth annual Italian Heritage Festival in Honor of the Feast of San Gennaro will be shaking the Spanish moss from the live oaks outside the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn, on Hilton Head Island!

This year promises to be bigger than ever, according to festival chairman, Paul Caimano. “I’ve been getting calls from vendors who want to participate, and live bands out of state, and from as far as California,” he said.

The Italian Heritage Festival has escalated in nine years to 4,200 attendees at the 2017 event, where they also broke the Guinness Record for making the World’s Largest Meatball, weighing in at 1,707.08 pounds. (The finished product was enjoyed by festivalgoers, and also donated to Second Helpings for distribution to local hunger charities.) Anyone who missed that wild ride can still get a look at the custom-made oven-trailer that cooked the world’s largest meatball, which will be on display at this year’s festival.

The Italian-American Club of Hilton Head (IACHH)* has also grown its membership and community participation by leaps and bounds, while continuing its mission to give back to only area charities, and scholarship funds.

“A few years ago, we changed the bylaw that required all members to be of Italian descent,” explained John De Cecco, president of the IACHH. “It only seemed fair. Many of our members had spouses who were not Italian but were assisting us at events and with all our club activities. Plus, we had sponsors and vendors donating product and volunteers who weren’t Italian. All these people were helping out and asking to join the club, because they had so much fun working with us and liked that our causes were all local.”

None of the members wanted to abandon the essence and cultural background of what made their group so unique. “Finally, we decided, hey, Italian is about love for your community. It’s about what’s inside,” vice president, George Paletta explained. “If you love the Hilton Head community and want to help us give back to it, then that makes you Italian at heart. So, you’re in.”

The new, more open statute helped grow the club’s membership, within a couple of years, by almost another third. The Italian-American component continues to comprise the majority of the membership, but the new members (with backgrounds ranging from Malaysian to Irish, Jewish, and Polish, to name just a few—all being Italian at heart), brought fresh ideas, and energy, and within a few short years, the IACHH and all its fundraising efforts had become major Hilton Head events to which many look forward annually.

The annual September festival seemed to be the barometer for the club’s growth each year, which has included changing venues to accommodate the added vendors, attendees, and parking logistics, while also changing up the activities and attractions according to each year’s reviews, and questionnaire responses.

The true tipping point arrived when the calls started coming in from outside, rather than the other way around. As anyone who has worked for a non-profit knows, most of the members’ energies are spent chasing down vendors, sponsors, auction donations, etc. Board members are always knocking on business doors, caps outstretched, while wearing the game face of gratitude, and forever selling tickets.
“This is the first year that I’ve been fielding calls from vendors who want a spot early on, rather than me having to remind them ahead of time,” Caimano said, with some relief, having worked as festival chairman for the last five years. “Now, I’ve got to find room for everyone, because new businesses have heard about us and want in.”

What a great new set of problems!

So, what can everyone look forward to, this year? Favorites from years past include an increase in vendors serving the best Italian food, presented by local and regional chefs from their own award-winning recipes. Silent auction items include gift certificates and gift baskets from many of these same restaurants, as well as private chef dinners.

IACHH member volunteers will be serving freshly prepared zeppoles and cannolis onsite (get there early; those lines can be long!)

Also, browse and shop from the wares of local artists, craftspeople, and businesses, enjoy an inflatable fun park for the kids, live entertainment from the Tanelli Singers from Myrtle Beach, cooking demonstrations, a grape-stomping contest, pizza-eating contest, and much more.

This year, organizers are excited also to have Peacock Auto Group participating, featuring their Italian line of cars: Fiat, Alfa Romeo, and Maserati.

*The Italian-American Club of Hilton Head (IACHH) is a 501©(3) organization that hosts fundraisers, and organizes activities, to benefit local charities, and scholarships. Proceeds from Club events go back into the Hilton Head area community.

What: 9th Annual Italian Heritage Festival in Honor of the Feast of San Gennaro
Where: Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn
When: 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Saturday, September 15
Cost: $6/person, parking/free, kids under 10/free.
For more information:https://www.iachh.org, or call Paul Caimano at (412) 897-1148.

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