Five years ago, Tom Crouch was deep in a brainstorming session trying to raise funds for the Kiwanis Club of Lawrence, of which he was then president. Suddenly, a simple idea struck him – why not invite locals to a night of delicious Italian food and socializing, and raise funds through ticket sales and special purchases at the event? Thus, the club’s annual Italian Fest was born, and Crouch says it’s been a hit with locals ever since.
“It’s a nice chance to both fundraise and socialize with your friends and with some good food,” Crouch says, current Lawrence Kiwanis vice-president and Italian Fest co-chair. “It’s a way that we support certain leadership teams in the high schools, Marian University, and the junior high and elementary schools. We encourage them to sell tickets, so they can bring their parents if they want. And it’s a chance for the Kiwanis family to get together and have a quiet evening.”
Fest attendees are treated to a robust Italian dining experience – there’s Italian wedding soup, breadsticks, salad, spaghetti, meatballs and baked zucchini. Wine and desserts are also available for purchase.
All proceeds from the event, which will be held on August 2 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., benefit Kiwanis Club of Lawrence’s various service projects. The organization supports Riley Hospital for Children and Ronald McDonald House, as well as offers scholarships to local high school students. Additionally, it helps to organize youth leadership programs at the elementary, junior high, and high school levels in Lawrence Township.
Crouch says the fest has drawn around 100 attendees each year since the inaugural event and is optimistic that crowds will increase this August and in future years.
“We bring in Rick Cianelli, who’s a great cook, and he makes enough for about 150 people, so there’s always plenty of food for everyone,” he says. “It’s really a fun evening.”
Scott Maskel, event co-chair and Lawrence Kiwanis member, says Cianelli’s culinary expertise has raised the event to a new level since it began five years ago.
“For a few years we didn’t use Rick, and once we got him the quality of the food went through the roof,” Maskel says. “Rick and his family have a background in the restaurant business, and the food is exceptional. Each year attendance has grown since the Cianellis took over cooking, because word has gotten out on just how good the food is.”
Maskel says the Kiwanis Club added a few kids’ activities and a silent auction to the Italian Fest in past years but has since decided to focus exclusively on providing food and a lively social atmosphere.
“We found that some of the other stuff made the space crowded and got in the way, so we wanted to make it about having good food and getting together with friends,” he says. “Folks come from other Kiwanis clubs around the area outside of Lawrence to support the event, and thankfully each year it’s grown.”
The Italian Fest isn’t the only event the Kiwanis Club of Lawrence will be busy within the month of August — during the annual City of Lawrence Community Safety Day on August 10, Kiwanis members will offer a youth bicycle safety course, teaching kids to ride a bike and learn traffic signals. Participating kids get a free bicycle helmet, and Kiwanis will also give away a free bicycle.
This year’s Community Safety Day will also feature SWAT and K-9 officer demos, a climbing wall, face painting, a free hot dog meal and more. Visit cityoflawrence.org for more details.