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Organizers ready for Columbus Day Parade, Food Fest

By Staff | Oct 1, 2011

Next weekend vendors will fill the streets in downtown Cape Coral for the fourth annual Italian Food Fest after the Columbus Day Parade kicks off at 3 p.m.

Linda Biondi, event chair for the parade and festival, said about four or five years ago they decided they wanted to hold the Italian Food Fest because there was nothing to do once the annual Columbus Day parade was over.

“We figured why not a festival, a street fest like they have in the north” she said.

Biondi said they outgrew the Big John’s parking lot the first year they added the Italian Food Fest, so they decided to hold it out in the street.

Between 35-40 vendors are expected be a part of the event this year by the time it takes place next Saturday, Oct. 8.

“Each year, everyone wants to be a part of it,” Biondi said about the increased vendor participation. “We have been blessed by the participation.”

Last year the fest attracted 15,000 people throughout the day, which caused the vendors to run out of food twice.

Although the majority of the vendors this year are from Cape Coral, there will be a few from Punta Gorda as well.

Linda Messina Holda, publicity chair for Sons of Italy, Charles J. Bonaparte Lodge #2504 said the fest, also will feature pizza and spaghetti eating contests. She said for the pizza contest contestants will have to eat the most slices of pizza. The spaghetti contest will involve contestants eating with their hands instead of utensils.

In addition to the food, there also will be live entertainment by DJ Z-Bop with Vinnie B as MC, the Lisa Meyer Dancers, The Calendar Girls and the Del Prados after the parade ends.

At 7:30 p.m. Tenor Maurice (Maurizio) LoMonaco will perform a free concert for all those in attendance.

“The committee has been working really hard on this since January and February to put this whole thing together,” Biondi said. “Because of them, we are able to do this and give back to the community.”

Holda said it is the oldest Italian, American festival in Southwest Florida.

“We were the first and a couple others have followed us since then,” she said.

The parade will begin at 3 p.m. at Southeast 15th Avenue and travel west on Southeast 47th Terrace to Southeast 10th place.

It previously travelled down Cape Coral Parkway beginning at Four Freedoms Park on a Saturday morning, Biondi said.

The theme of the parade changes every year.

This year the theme is “Children are the Future” and Kiwanis Club of Cape Coral President Sam Huber will be the grand marshal.

Holda said they chose Huber because he does so much for the community. She said he helps children through his backpack fighting hunger program and through the Key Club.

This year, two new groups will be a part of the parade and festival – the SCUBA (South Cape United Business Associates) group and Firefighters Fighting Cancer, Biondi said.

A 1992 white and red in-service firetruck, Engine 91, which used to belong to the Charlotte County Fire Department, will be in the parade and at the festival next Saturday.

Nick Libretto, who left the Cape Coral Fire Department in 1995 after 15 years, said he wanted to do something for children who have cancer, so he started the foundation, Firefighters Fighting Cancer. The status of the non-profit organization was completed two weeks ago.

He said he loves working with kids, so he decided to move forward and help raise money to fight any type of cancer.

In the last 18 months, Libretto said six people that he knew personally have died from cancer.

“I’m trying to make lives a little better,” he said. “The firefighters want to help and give back.”

The purpose of the fire truck is to bring it out into the community to help raise money, along with letting the children be a fireman for a few hours. He said he is working with Lee Memorial Health System, Camp Rock and Candlelighters of Southwest Florida.

Libretto said he hopes to have the children ride on the truck and squirt water for an hour or two.

“Whatever we can do,” he said.

Libretto has heard back from the Fort Myers local fire fighters union that they will send out a few guys when they are out in the community, so there will be a certified firefighter on site when the children operate the hoses.

He is waiting to hear back from the Cape Coral firefighters union.

Partial proceeds from the event will benefit the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s, Cooley’s Anemia Foundations and the Order of Sons of Italy in America College Scholarship.