WILDWOOD — The smell of hot Italian sausage wafted through the air Saturday afternoon at Fox Park.
A band performed Bobby Rydel’s “Wildwood Days” as locals and out-of-towners gorged on pizza and cheese-steaks for the second and final day of the Wildwood Olde Time Italian Festival.
The event has taken place in Wildwood for more than 20 years, though the past two years’ festivals were canceled due to rain. But despite heavy winds, a large crowd had congregated by 12:30 p.m. to celebrate Italian culture and support local organizations and vendors.
Local shops had set up tents, and eateries from as far as Philadelphia brought their food trucks to the park.
“Right after we close this weekend, we’ll start working on the next one,” said Joe Montello, president of the Sons of Italy Wildwood chapter, which sponsored the event. “It’s always the fourth weekend after Labor Day, and we had a study a few years back by the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority that this event (typically) draws roughly 40,000 people for the weekend.”
Montello said he expected about 10,000 people to walk through the park’s gate Saturday.
The Sons of Italy donates to multiple organizations in the form of scholarships and aid to Alzheimer’s groups, Montello said.
He said he’s uncertain of the festival’s future but is actively trying to bring younger members into the Sons of Italy to continue it and to continue to donate to good causes.
“Let’s face it, these diseases don’t get better, they get worse,” he said.
Loretta Aloi, of Blackwood, Camden County, was diagnosed with a rare form of blood cancer. She has yet to find a match for a bone marrow transplant and set up a table at the festival so people could take swab tests to see whether they qualify as a match for her or others.
Members of the Mystic Island Volunteer Fire Company on Saturday assisted the Marine Mammal S…
Aloi had just gotten married last Friday and said she hoped that spending her honeymoon at the Italian Festival would end up helping someone.
“If they can’t help me, then hopefully they can help somebody else. We’re just trying to get a match,” Aloi said.
Lines formed for dishes like pizza rolls and cannolis. Reeree Altieri donned an Italian track jacket and served food for La Piazza in Wildwood.
She said the festival is a good way to promote Italian culture through food and music.
“We’ve been part of this festival for something like 10 years,” said Altieri. “It just makes people come together and just be proud of their heritage.”