Cannoli for the Soul: The Feast of Little Italy’s Sal Richards & Little Smiles Charity

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feast-of-little-italy-highlightsAh, November in South Florida. Apart from Thanksgiving, there’s one event set aside in November when locals put their diets on hold: the Feast of Little Italy (FOLI), which kicks off Nov. 7. For three straight days, the streets of Abacoa Town Center will be lined with thousands of locals clamoring for authentic Italian cuisine and music along with fun-filled activities including pizza- and lasagna-eating contests, and even an attempt to set the world record for the largest cannoli!

Jerry Somma, the founder of FOLI and owner of Via Productions Inc., has made the event about more than just great food and friends by not only celebrating Italian-American heritage throughout the weekend, but also by using the event as a vehicle to support the Little Smiles Charity year round.

“The Feast of Little Italy created the Little Smiles toy drive,” Somma said. “Last year we collected over 5,000 toys as well as several thousands of dollars for gift cards,” including iTunes cards for children ages 12-16.

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The Feast Of Little Italy Founders Bill Fagnano & Jerry Somma

Jerry also is a board member of Little Smiles and helped spearhead the organization’s whiffle ball tournament at Roger Dean Stadium. Not to be outdone, Little Smiles also puts on an annual gala for children from different local hospitals along with their families.

“What we do is take the concept of the Oscars but the stars are the children,” Somma said. “It’s gowns, tuxedos, hair, makeup, limousines; they’re escorted by the police, the roads are closed in CityPlace; it’s red carpeted, all the guests have photos of the children to autograph as they’re walking into the venue, then the night is about celebrating them and their families. That’s coming up Feb. 7 of 2015.”

Joshua Daniel, executive director of Little Smiles, explained that their mission is to “bring smiles to the faces of children who truly need it the most … children in local hospitals and shelters.” Their method of choice: providing entertaining distractions in the form of toys and movies delivered to their rooms, Nerf gun battles, outings to meet celebrities, visit theme parks and concerts, and even bringing normalcy back to their lives through junk-food runs to the store. These simple acts can take a child’s mind off their troubles and plant a smile firmly on his or her face.

This noble cause attracted notable comedian, singer and actor Sal Richards, who shared the silver screen with Matt Damon in the movie Rounders, to accept the Grand Marshall role for this year’s Feast of Little Italy. He’ll be leading the event all weekend as well as headlining the Sunday lineup with his standup and music routine.

As a man who knows his way around a hospital, Little Smiles is a cause dear to Sal’s heart.

“I had a certain feeling for it as my son had a losing battle with leukemia,” Richards said. “It went into remission and the leukemia didn’t come back, but complications from the battle put him into a 10-month coma that he didn’t wake up from.”

Entertaining sick children also runs in the family. His own father staged shows at local hospitals for children while he was growing up, inspiring Sal to follow in his footsteps.

“My favorite thing to do is to make people laugh,” he said. “If I can take people’s mind off their troubles for an hour, then I’ve used the gifts God gave me.”

So how can you help Little Smiles? Simple! Visit the Feast of Little Italy and enjoy all the food, music and activities it has to offer. A portion of the proceeds will go directly to Little Smiles and further their mission of putting a smile on every child’s face. You can also visit LittleSmiles.org to learn about future events and help spread the word on Facebook.

Sal reminds us, “These kids need a lot of love and support. The more people know about the organization, the more kids we can help.” Capisce?

For more information on this year’s Feast of Little Italy, visit www.feastoflittleitaly.com.

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12th annual Feast of Little Italy Italian Heritage Festival
This year’s Feast of Little Italy will feature delectable Italian cuisine, an array of art and entertainment, cooking demonstrations, wine seminars, bocce ball and family-friendly activities, so you don’t want to miss out on the fun!

DATES & TIMES

Friday, Nov 7. (3-10 p.m.) HIGHLIGHTS: Singer Lisa Dellarosa (5 p.m.), Opening Ceremony (7:30 p.m.), Ray Massa’s EuroRhythms (8 p.m.)

Saturday, Nov. 8 (10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) HIGHLIGHTS: Pizza Eating Contest (2:30 p.m.), COPA / Italian Dance Youth Touring Co. (3 p.m.), Gary Puckett & The Union Gap (8 p.m.)

Sunday, Nov. 9 (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) HIGHLIGHTS: Art in Motion with Nick Cappiello (noon), Celebrity Galbani Cheese Building for Charity (1 p.m.), World Record Attempt for Largest Cannoli (2 p.m.), Lasagna Eating Contest (2:30 p.m.), Sal Richards (6 p.m.)

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