Now, four years later, "A Taste of Roosevelt" has evolved. It's no longer just limited to the school, the school's parents, teachers and staff. It's now a true community event, with family, friends and neighbors, all coming together to help the PTO fund a year's worth of student activities.
It's also a way for the people of Roosevelt School to feel proud about their heritage. And if you happened to be among the 300 or so who jammed the school's auditorium last Friday night for the festivities, you'll know exactly what is meant when Roosevelt School is called the "quintessential melting pot."
Thirty-one different countries were represented in the presentation, which called for parents to prepare foods from their heritages. Others wore traditional costumes and clothing, and even others played music and danced.
"It really is a melting pot," said Grace Mancini-Rodriguez, the president of the Roosevelt PTO and the organizer of the event. "We have so many different backgrounds, cultures and traditions, and we wanted the parents to represent those cultures with foods, costumes, music. It just shows the incredible diversity we have in just one school."
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.
"There was a little bit of everything," Mancini-Rodriguez said. "There was so much food that it was really overwhelming. Even vegetarians had a chance to sample different foods. There was no explaining how much food it was."
Puerto Rican, Irish, Italian...
If you need an example of how diversified Roosevelt school is, look no further than Vivian Whalen's family.
Vivian's family came from Puerto Rico. Her husband is half Irish and half Italian. So Vivian went the safe route and prepared roast pork as the ethnic dish of choice.
"There are so many stay-at-home Moms who are talented cooks," Whalen said. "I tried everything and found a new-found love for Indian food. It was incredible. The smells and the tastes were wonderful. I'm glad that we opened it up to the community, so we could invite family, friends and neighbors. Everyone could enjoy it. It was beautiful."
Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan was amazed at the turnout.
"It's a great venue for school personnel, teachers, and staff to mingle with the parents, all for a good cause," McLellan said. "They all got to know each other better in the best of social settings. It really goes a long way to build a sense of community within the school. It's an educational experience for the kids, as well as a social experience for everyone."
Six-year-old Henry Hochhauser, whose older brother Leo attends Roosevelt School, was so moved by the evening that he handwrote an essay on the night and sent it in to the Weehawken Reporter.
"There were so many people there and there were a lot of people eating," Henry Hochhauser wrote. "We had so many different foods and we were dancing like crazy. And then we tried to win a prize and we got a $50 gift to Houlihan's."
There were many prizes that were raffled off, but the biggest prize, a 27-inch flat screen television donated by the Weehawken and You Civic Association, was won by Roosevelt teacher Susie Dorsey.
"We're always appreciative of the contributions of Mayor [Richard] Turner and the Township Council," Mancini-Rodriguez said. "We had a lot of sponsors who went out of their way to make the event a success."
The parents also donated 30 different baskets that were raffled off.
Raised money for trips
The night was the Roosevelt PTO's main fundraiser, to give the students of the school the chances to go on field trips, as well as the annual Fun Day that takes place every June.
In the past, the PTO held fundraising candy sales to offset the costs, but this year, Mancini-Rodriguez decided to turn "A Taste of Roosevelt" into the fundraiser. Judging by the crowds, it's safe to say it was a rousing success.
"I'm proud of all the parents and staff that all chipped in and made it a success," Mancini-Rodriguez said. "We have a dedicated group of parents and teachers in the school. I'm proud to be a part of it. It was a true community event, and that's because of the great work of my committee."
"It's a great night, because it's all about the kids," Whalen said. "Everyone is so proud of showing their culture. The kids had a great time. It truly was a great night."