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Columbus Day Parade, Italian Food Fest attract biggest crowd

By Staff | Oct 13, 2009

The weather was humid, but hundreds attended the 26th Annual Columbus Day Parade Saturday afternoon before walking to the 2nd Annual Italian Food Fest Celebration.
Organized by the Cape Coral Sons of Italy, Charles J. Bonapart Lodge 2504, a member of the national nonprofit organization, both events celebrated the heritage of the Italian-American with food, dancing and music.
“As you can see, it is a huge success,” Linda Biondi, vice president and event chair for the Sons of Italy, said Saturday. “Just wait until it gets dark.”
The parade lasted approximately one hour and featured floats for Oktoberfest, the downtown Farmer’s Market and city council candidates. The food festival had a number of Italian delicacies and live music.
According to Biondi, the biggest challenge this year was the weather, which she said was uncharacteristically humid for the event. Organizers also had trouble securing funds for the festival, but managed to get everything together in time.
The event likely had more people in attendance. In 2008 there were close to 10,000 people, yet this year Biondi said the final count should be about 15,000.
She speculated that larger live acts were the reason for the spike in the size of the crowd.
“The bigger groups draw people from all over,” Biondi said.
The Del Prados, Bravissimo! featuring Jim Jeffrey, Heidi Brown and Michelle Cook, Barry Newman & The Lords of Cool, Larry Chance and the Earls all performed.
Traditional Italian tarantella dancers and magician B.J. Odom also put on a show.
Sons of Italy lodges in Port Charlotte and Sarasota volunteered to assist with this year’s Italian Food Fest Celebration.
Because the Sons of Italy is nonprofit, Biondi said that all of the proceeds from the event go to the American Cancer Society and Cooley’s Anemia Foundation.
The group also gives out one academic scholarship a year to a local student who writes an essay on Italian-American heritage.
The group sold gift baskets for raffles and strands of beads with the Italian colors of white, green and red for $1.
Sons of Italy President Sal Cossentino said the Italian Food Fest Celebration is the group’s biggest fund-raiser that gives back to local charities.
“After 10 months, it has come together,” he said.
The event had a number of vendors and sponsors, including a tent for the 2010 Cape Coral Relay for Life, which, like the Sons of Italy, also benefits the American Cancer Society.
“We are trying to get the word out that Relay for Life is coming up,” said Linda Huffman, team captain for Cape Coral Hospital.
Relay for Life is at Ida S. Baker High this year from April 23-24. Organizers were registering survivors and relay teams Saturday.
This year’s theme is “Mardi Gras” and the kickoff party is Oct. 26 at Pearl Lounge.
Vendors on Saturday included Societa D’Italia, Leone’s, Big Papa’s, Sal’s Pizza, Bella Sera, Ariels, Miami Crepes, Boston Richie, Nino’s Bakery, Working Cow, Ice Cream Club, Crossroads Cafe, Private Platter, Funnel Cake Fact, Don Anthony’s, Pete’s, Tormas Bistro and Taste of Sicily.