The event, sponsored by the school's Parent Teacher Organization, had representation from 24 different countries - the nations of the parents' heritages. Some parents prepared foods from their native lands. Others wore traditional costumes and clothing, and even others played music and danced.
With the food, the music, the dancing, the costumes and the decorations, it was beyond a festive way for teachers, parents, and students to get to know each other better. It was a family celebration.
"We had 70 parents who cooked dishes," said Grace Mancini-Rodriguez, the president of the Roosevelt PTO, who organized the event. "Everything worked in clockwork fashion. I was nervous whether people would be there, but it all came together and it was a pleasure to watch. Everyone contributed."
The parents made presentations of their native countries with a tremendous sense of pride. There were flags decorating the entire gymnasium, with some historical perspectives presented as well. Art teacher Mary Ellen Spinosa saw to that and coordinated the decorations.
Of course, there were others who went the extra yard and dressed in native gear.
The children were there, being able to soak in all the tradition and the history, making it a learning event for them.
"The kids all got a chance to see all the culture and the traditions," said Brian Calligy, the school's technology teacher. "It really was a great educational experience as well. It was great fun. It was extremely impressive to see the gym laid out with all the different flags of the many countries. The turnout was tremendous. The parental involvement was a big success. You could see the parents were proud of where they came from. It really was a positive experience."
Calligy said that there was another impressive side to the event.
"The amount of food there was tremendous," Calligy said. "I couldn't believe how much food was there."
"There was a little bit of everything," Mancini-Rodriguez said. "There was so much food that it was really overwhelming. Everyone got a chance to sample foods from all over the world. Even vegetarians had a chance to sample different foods. There was no explaining how much food it was."
Cuban, Italian, Filipino...
Mancini-Rodriguez's family is a prime example of how diverse the school's community is. She comes from Italian background, so she prepared eggplant rollentini as a dish. Her husband is of Cuban descent, so he provided Cuban music for everyone's listening pleasure.
Toni Fukuda's family has a wild background, going from Japanese to Filipino.
"We're a mix of everything," said Fukuda, whose daughter entered Roosevelt School this year, so this was her first school-related social event. "It's nice to bring the different cultures together. It was all a little new to us, but it was really nice to get to know everyone."
Fukuda, who is Filipino, made pancit, a rice noodle and vegetable dish, while her Japanese husband made salmon teriyaki.
"Even my kids were willing to try out food they never would ever dare to try," Fukuda said. "We all got to know each other and learned about the different cultures at the same time. I couldn't believe how open the people were, how willing they were to share their cultures. I knew it was a good night when my son was eating Norwegian cheese. Because of that, I'll always remember the night."
Mancini-Rodriguez, who works as a real estate agent full-time for Smart Realty in Edgewater, said her boss allowed her to organize the event while on company time.
"He was really supportive," Mancini-Rodriguez said.
Anthony LaBruno, the principal at Roosevelt School, was somewhat surprised with the amount of participation there was in the event.
"To some degree, it amazes me, but then to another degree, I'm not surprised, because of the efforts of Grace," LaBruno said. "She is able to get the team working, the machine going. It's a perfect partnership. We want to help, but Grace is the one who gets the parents involved. It happened because of her dedication. She gets the word out, makes the calls and then for me, the numbers are mind boggling. But it's Grace who puts in the time and effort to see it happen."
Added LaBruno, "It is a multi-cultural night and it shows the diversity we have in the town, but it's fantastic because the parents all show such a tremendous sense of pride of where they come from. It really turned out to be a great family night."
While there were some fundraising activities, like a turkey raffle and a 50/50, the purpose of the night was not to collect money. There will be other events to collect funds. This was a night for families, for culture, for togetherness.
"It's just a very good way for everyone to get to know each other," Mancini-Rodriguez said. "All the time that is put into the night is worth it."
The countries represented were Puerto Rico, Mexico, Jamaica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, Spain, Poland, Ireland, Colombia, Cuba, Italy, Dominican Republic, Israel, Tunisia, Korea, Philippines, Senegal, Cape Verde, India, Norway, Japan and of course, the United States. That's almost like the United Nations coming across the Hudson River and settling in Weehawken for a day.
Mancini-Rodriguez said that there were plenty of people to thank for helping the event to come off. Cappelletti's Florist in Union City donated flowers for decorations. Other merchants donated for the assorted raffles.
"We had a great team, a great staff and a great committee," Mancini-Rodriguez said. "I just want to do anything I can to make the kids feel wanted."