The second annual Best Meatball Contest took place on Sunday, April 28 and drew awareness to Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). The Secaucus-based relatives of the late Daniel Cevallos – who died of the disorder at 7 months of age – along with the Immaculate Council Knights of Columbus, invited the community to help raise funds in the hopes of finding a cure for SMA. Nearly 100 people attended the event.
What is SMA?
Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) is a motor neuron disease, which is the number one genetic killer of infants under the age of 2 and is generally diagnosed through a blood test. SMA destroys the nerves that control voluntary muscle movement, which affect crawling, walking, head and neck control, and swallowing. Every day, two children are born with SMA in the United States; one in 6,000 babies are born affected, and about 1 in 40 people are genetic carriers; it occurs in approximately 8 out of every 1,000 live births and affects approximately 1 out of every 6,000 to 10,000 individuals worldwide.
Currently there is no cure or treatment for SMA.
Families of SMA is a nonprofit organization with 31 chapters and 90,000 members, as well as supporters throughout the U.S. The organization has done basic research and funded clinical trials.
Eating for a cure
What at first glance appeared to be a Best Meatball Contest had an important message, which was to help find a cure or treatment for SMA.
Daniel passed away on Aug. 28, 2009 at just 7 months and 16 days. His uncle, Giovanni Recalde, a member of the Knights of Columbus, brought up the suggestion of raising money for SMA in honor of his nephew.
“Since then we try to raise money for this great cause,” said Giovanni. “We’re looking for a cure and other people are coming to give hope to the families of SMA.”
Daniel’s mother Paulina Recalde had the support of not just the community but also other families affected by SMA.
“As a parent you feel helpless and you always have to protect your children,” said Paulina.
Event attendee Joan Rosenbower understood since her grandson Ryan Reilly was another victim of Type I SMA.
“It’s not widely known at all and it’s very, very heartbreaking, shocking, and frustrating because there’s currently no treatment or cure for the disease,” said Rosenbower.
Will Henkel shed some hope since his grandson, Peter Henkel of Philadelphia, has not let SMA stop him from being adventurous. Peter is 8 and has Type II SMA. He has managed to enjoy snorkeling, parasailing, skiing, swimming, power wheelchair hockey, neighborhood football, and tubing. While he seems like an inspiration, daily tasks are difficult, and most of his nourishment comes from a feeding tube.
“It’s not widely known at all and it’s very, very heartbreaking.” - Joan Rosenbower
Henkel’s wife, Lorna, suggested that a North Jersey Chapter be created for Families of SMA since there is none.
Resident Barbara Cannan became more “knowledgable about SMA.”
“I’m gonna support [SMA] as best I can,” said resident Joe Heffernan. “This is an amazing event and I’m pleased to be here.”
Meatballs and money
Tickets for the event included all-you-can-eat meatballs and beverages. A total of $1,100 was raised and all the proceeds benefit the families of SMA.
There were an assortment of meatballs for every palate such as the Portuguese Meatballs, Gene’s Gems, Danny’s Meatball, Tasmanian Meatball, Antonio’s Melt in Your Mouth Meatballs “Poulpette,” Pattaya Beach Peanut Treats, Guiseppe’s Balls of Fire, Parise Meatballs, Vita’s Vibrant Meatballs, Polish Meatballs, Great Balls of Fire, Marathon Meatballs, Molfetta Meatballs, and Fowl Balls. There were 1,600 meatballs to feed the insatiable appetites of those who attended.
The audience selected winning meatballs: Danny’s Meatball, Guiseppe’s Balls of Fire, Polish Meatballs, and Marathon Meatballs. The judges, Bruce Rennie, Tara Krajewski, Sean O’Neill, and Paul Pinkmon then selected first through fourth place winners. The winners were selected based on taste, texture, appearance, and originality. Fourth place went to Danny’s Meatball, third to Marathon Meatballs, second to Guiseppe’s Balls of Fire, and first to Polish Meatballs. The prizes won were a certificate for the fourth place winner and trophies and up to $100 for top winners.
To donate or get more information, visit www.fsma.org/BestMeatballContest or www.curesma.org.