Sons prep for Italian Festival
BELLAIRE — The Sons of Italy have kept up their annual tradition of making and selling sausage sandwiches despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
The organization members sold their sandwiches at their headquarters in 2020, but with the Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival back on in Wheeling Friday through Sunday, the Sons will be back at their accustomed booth.
This week, volunteers gathered to prepare the famous sausage.
“We worked all day (Monday) preparing a lot of the pork. We did a lot of deboning. We had to cut it out, season it, chill it,” Bill Ault, president of the club, said.
On Tuesday, they worked on 1,200 pounds of meat, with 1,700 pounds done already, for the same amount as previous years.
“We always do 3,000 pounds for the Italian Festival and we always sell out,” he said. “It’s very well-received. We hope it’s going to be good weather. That’s not going to deter a lot of people.”
Ault said the recent Blame My Roots country music festival was popular despite some rain.
“We’re doing well. We had so many volunteers. We can’t do any of this without volunteers,” Ault said.
These volunteers are the heart of our Sons of Italy. … We’ll be busy right up until (Friday).”
He said the Sons have had about 20 new club members and many are volunteering. He said while many members caught the coronavirus, few died with the disease.
“The pandemic took its toll because people weren’t coming out. Our volunteers weren’t volunteering,” he said. “Many of them are in their 70s or 80s, so we were doing minimal. It really hurt us financially, but we’re on the mend right now. We’re coming along.”
Ault said the volunteers were scrupulous about sanitizing.
Last year, they were only able to make 1,300 pounds of pork.
The Sons of Italy are a nonprofit organization that often provides scholarships to students as well as donations to local organizations. Last year the organization was able to provide $6,000. The prior year it donated about $8,000.
Ault said the Sons are feeling the economic pinch.
“Prices went sky high,” he said, adding that the organization members are debating whether it might be necessary to increase the price of sandwiches. The prices have been in the $5 range.
Pete Cerminara, of Barnesville, originally from Italy, has lived in the United States 64 years and has volunteered for the Sons’ sausage-making for 15 years.
“It’s very good quality sausage. All the food is good, they help a lot of people, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted everyone. “Nobody could help with that. We all suffered from it. We just had to learn from that.”
David DeBlasis of Maryland is a native of the Bellaire area who returns yearly to volunteer and enjoy the festival. He has volunteered for six years.
“I come back here because my family’s here,” he said, adding he visits his relatives and pays respects to his parents and others. “Never forget where you came from. … I like coming back to the small town.”