By Tom Maguire | Associate editor

The potluck has grown into a professional potpourri.

Taste of Strathmore, which started about 30 years ago as neighbors sharing food, is now a fundraising feast for Most Holy Rosary School in Syracuse.

In the old days patrons paid about $3 to get into the parish center; then they bought tickets and paid for a small sample of everybody’s best dish. The event moved to the cafeteria, and then the gym. About five years ago, the organizers introduced restaurants. “We really accelerated the growth of the event,” co-chair Kristen Smith said.

For $20 presale and $25 at the door, the public can get unlimited tastes of dishes from local cooks and restaurants and delicious desserts 5:30-9:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3, at the MHR Parish Center, 1031 Bellevue Ave. Included are a cash bar, live entertainment, a silent auction, and raffles.

The organizers consider it an “all-hands-on-deck event” and they ask the parents to get involved. “They plan it, they meet, they make it happen,” said Principal Jennifer Petosa. The families of Smith and co-chair Erin Byrne Ruddy are now up to their fourth generation as MHR School people.

From a “meager few hundred dollars,” the fundraiser goal has gone up every year; this year the organizers hope to raise close to $70,000 for things like scholarships and supplies. “Without these two,” the principal said of the co-chairs, “it would not happen.”

Byrne Ruddy consulted her mother, Laurie Byrne, and found out that about 50 to 75 patrons attended the first feast. “And we now have over 500 people come,” Erin said. Helpers include the committee members’ kids, the Confirmation kids, the teachers, and the Strathmore Men’s Athletic Club, which tends bar and serves up macaroni and cheese. Overall, the event’s volunteer crew totals 40 to 50 people.

“MHR connections are everywhere,” Smith said. The school has been around since 1915, so there are many people in the community who went there or had a cousin, a parent or a child that went there.

“We find that we can appeal to their sense of loyalty,” Smith added, “but even broader than that, we pitch it as support of Catholic education, so even if a restaurant might not have any connection to Rosary, we find there’s a lot of restaurant owners that are Catholic and are moved by this message of Catholic education.”

The message is conveyed in the Most Holy Rosary School Centennial Memory Room, which anybody who has ever attended a venerable Catholic elementary school can appreciate. The ancient wooden floor, with its wide boards, shines as if every graduate applied a coat of shellac before leaving, and the photos and diplomas evoke the scholars and clergy of years ago.

“We take good care of this building,” Principal Petosa said. “It’s an important piece of the community. And I think that’s why it’s successful too. People want Rosary to continue on and be a mainstay in the community.”

Visiting the Memory Room last week, current sixth-grader Elizabeth Gaughan said the Nov. 3 fundraiser is important because it brings the whole community together. Thinking of MHR’s future students, she said, “When they come here, they make friendships that’ll last a lifetime.”

She added: “I’ll always be friends with these two,” meaning classmates Charlotte Hsiao and Erin’s son Jack Ruddy. All three students, who are basketball players, are glad they attend MHR.

“The kids who are coming will be admitted into the family,” Charlotte said. The fundraiser, she said, will foster “a better school than it already is.”

Jack, who is big on reading (“in fiction, anything can happen, and it’s really exciting”), said the money raised by Taste of Strathmore “will help all the kids that come here have a lot of fun.” His favorite school events include the spring and winter concerts, and of course the book fair.

The Taste of Strathmore offers very enticing raffles. Would they ever raffle any of the stuff in the Memory Room?

The collective answer: “No!”


Taste of Strathmore

What: Unlimited tastes of dishes; a benefit for Most Holy Rosary School, 1031 Bellevue Ave., Syracuse.

When: 5:30-9:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 3.

Cost: $20 presale, $25 at door. Presale tickets available at MHR School (315-476-6035) and Western Lights Liquors as well as after all Masses at Most Holy Rosary Church throughout October (5 p.m. Saturday; 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., and noon Sunday).

Participating eateries: Partial list — Swallow’s Restaurant, Coleman’s, Maxwells, Strada Mia, Nibsy’s,  and Diamond Catering. Also: Delicious dishes prepared by neighborhood chefs, which was how the event started many years ago.

Raffles: Purchase $20 ticket to win one of three prizes: 12 $100 gift cards, six $100 gift cards, or a cash prize of $250. All the gift cards are donated by restaurants, so all the money goes straight to the school.

Silent auction: More than 200 items available for either auction or raffle.

Entertainment: Singer Tim Herron, Strathmore resident and MHR music teacher.

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