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Firefighters Don Aprons for 9th Annual Crab Feed Fundraiser

After a delay until Jan. 15 because the crabs needed more time to reach maturity, the commercial Dungeness crab season in the Bay Area is finally in full swing. And the feasting is underway to raise funds for philanthropic organizations such as the Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation, which sold out all 328 spots at its 9th Annual Crab Feed on Feb. 17, held at St. Justin’s Elementary School, Santa Clara.

“I can’t think of a crab feed that’s better, and our firefighters use just the right touch of garlic in their food,” said Santa Clara Fire Department Chief Bill Kelly, seated at a long table for 14. “Firefighters are known for their cooking.”

Firefighters Dominic and Nick Restani, twins, were co-chairs of the crab feed. They took an even bolder stand than Kelly.

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“We’re the best crab feed in Santa Clara,” said Dominic. Or was it his twin brother, Nick? “We serve a lot of quality food for the money. A seven-course dinner.”

It was a challenge for the brothers to recall all the courses: focaccia bread and Netto’s sausage appetizers, pesto pasta, garlic bread, steamed mussels, tomato basil salad, three-bean salad, calamari salad, Caesar salad, chocolate cream puffs and, oh, yes, all-you-can-eat cooked, cracked and marinated cold Dungeness crab. All for $65.

About 40 firefighters put on aprons to prepare the food Friday and Saturday, volunteering their time. The crab, which had weighed in at two thousand pounds before cleaning, arrived from Washington state ready to eat. It was in plastic barrels in a refrigerated truck, waiting to be served by about 25 volunteers from Peterson Middle School’s Culinary Arts program.

“The crab is the star of the show. We use our family marinade recipe and marinate the crab for 24 hours,” said Nick. “Love is the secret ingredient in the recipe.”

The communal dining tables encourage friendships. Christina Fortuna and Mike Dittrich chatted with new friends Steve Bevan and Margo Hood.

“It’s my first time and I’m having a blast,” said Dittrich.

“No one thinks to support the firefighters until their house is on fire,” said Fortuna.

“The firefighters come to our fires, and we come to their crab feed,” said Bevan.

“We love the camaraderie, the friendship and chance to support local charities,” said Hood. “Every year it gets better. There are more prizes. They know what they’re doing.”

Fortuna had purchased a fistful of raffle tickets, hoping to win prizes like Sharks tickets, dinner for four at Fleming’s Steakhouse and a “Caddyshack” movie poster.

The Santa Clara Firefighters Foundation (www.santaclarafirefightersfoundation.org) is the charitable arm of the Santa Clara Firefighters Local 1171 labor organization. It funds scholarships and programs to assist seniors and mentor sixth graders. It supports Via Services for individuals with special needs and the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation.

The crab feed is one of the foundation’s biggest fundraisers. In 2017, it netted about $18,000 profit and $20,000 is expected this year, which would bring the total raised over nine years to more than $100,000 for charitable programs.

“It’s exciting, but whatever we make for our programs is a bonus. We want people to come and enjoy themselves and eat their hearts out,” said Nick. “We do this to get the community together.”

“I’m very proud that the proceeds go to help those in need in our community. The Firefighters Foundation does terrific work,” said Chief Kelly.

Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana was at the far end of the same table as Kelly, attending her first firefighters crab feed.

“I don’t eat seafood,” she said. “I’m here for the fun time. It’s Santa Clara at its best—that’s what I’m learning.”

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