BLOOMFIELD, NJ - Belleville Unico ACES held their 29th annual St. Joseph’s Altar at Saint Thomas the Apostle Church, 60 Byrd Ave., Bloomfield Sunday, March 12. The organization fed almost 200 people for free while collecting donations to benefit the community, as well as local and national charities.

Dignitaries present included Belleville Deputy Mayor Vinnie Cozzarelli, Belleville Second Ward Councilman Steve Rovell and Bloomfield Municipal Clerk Louise M. Palagano. Also in attendance was Unico National President Dominick Nicastro and First Lady Alina and Bloomfield Unico President Mike Sisco, former Bloomfield police chief.

Mary and Joseph were once again portrayed by Carmela Minervini and John Cataldo, both of Bloomfield. Cataldo now 33, has rendered the role since he was only six years old and has been using the same staff every year. Joan Cataldo, his mother, explained how John’s grandfather, Harold Manageri, an Essex County foreman, made the staff from a tree. She said that he told Cataldo “Someday you’re going to be taller than the staff.”

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Joan Cataldo, with the help of her son John, Minervini, and Connie Ciccolini, all of Bloomfield, worked most the night creating the altar. “We started at 5:30 p.m. and finished 20 minutes to 11,” she said. 

According to Belleville Unico President Manny Alfano of Bloomfield and also the founder of the Italian American One Voice Coalition based in Bloomfield, this event will not only feed hundreds of guests free of charge but, raises thousands of dollars for charity, local scholarships and feeding the needy.

“In the past 29 years our young people have donated to Tomorrow’s Children Fund at Hackensack Hospital, St. Jude’s Hospital, Cooley’s Anemia, St. Thomas Youth Group, Mental Health, Jimmy V Cancer Fund, St. Rocco Shelter in Newark, St. Peter’s Pantry in Belleville, Kidney Foundation, Scholarships for Belleville High School students, National scholarships, Police Vests for Bloomfield and Belleville, distributed food baskets and donated books and Unico Italian American Heritage calendars to the local high school and public library,” said Alfano.

This year’s St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital donation of $500 will be given in the name of the late Toni Alongi of Bloomfield and $500 to The Tomorrow’s Children in honor of the late Dominick Ferrara of Bloomfield. “Alongi and Ferrara were very active with the St. Joseph Altar,” said Manny Alfano. Unico Aces also gave $400 to St. Thomas the Apostle Youth Group and $300 to the Franciscan Charities of Newark, as well as two $500 scholarships for two Belleville High School students. “We also gave the Franciscan Charities trays of food, cases of water and soda and bread,” said Alfano. “This year the police will be honored with a special event in May,” added Alfano.

Unico Aces President Ashley Alfano and Vice President Alyssa Alfano, both of East Hanover, greeted the crowd and opened the event with the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the National Anthems - "The Star-Spangled Banner” and Italy’s Il Canto degli Italiani (The Chant of the Italians). Antonio’s grand-daughters Bianca and Emila Capozzi gave the blessing. The Rev. Antonio Sarento of St. Thomas the Apostle Church blessed the altar and the food.      

The food consisted of the traditional St. Joseph meal - pasta con le sarde (with sardines) as well as pasta with anchovies and breadcrumbs. Trays of spaghetti and clam sauce, penne vodka, broccoli and cavatelli and eggplant rollatini was also served. Each table had a wreath of Italian bread as well as oranges and fava beans. The beans are blessed and are supposed to bring luck. Dessert was also the customary St. Joseph’s Zeppoles – both with custard and cannoli filling.