Andy Cagnetta raises big bucks for a soup kitchen, simply by serving up plates of pasta
By Eric Barton
Thirteen years ago, Andy Cagnetta had this pretty simple idea. He would throw a pasta dinner, just like the ones his family did growing up, for about 30 of his friends. It would raise money to make sure other people had food on their plate, and – who knows? – maybe it would grow.
Cagnetta knew pretty quickly he was on to something. After that first year, the dinner got so much attention he had to add a second seating. He was serving it back then at the nonprofit it benefited, the soup kitchen LifeNet 4 Families in Fort Lauderdale. By year three, he had moved it to Signature Grand.
Now, Cagnetta is expecting somewhere near 900 people at the 14th Andy’s Family Pasta Dinner on Feb. 28. So far, it has raised more than $600,000 for LifeNet.
“I had no idea,” Cagnetta says recently at his office – he’s president of Transworld Business Advisors in Fort Lauderdale. “I really couldn’t have predicted where this would have gone.”
From the beginning, Cagnetta pictured it as a family event where people wear whatever and kids are running circles around the tables. Even as it moved into the Signature Grand’s main ballroom, that part hasn’t changed.
The event makes up a large chunk of LifeNet’s $3 million budget, says Melanie Geddes, the soup kitchen’s president and CEO. Each meal costs LifeNet about $1, she adds, so that means the pasta dinner has paid for more than 600,000 lunches or dinners for needy families.
“Andy is a very compassionate individual who cares about the community,” Geddes says. “When we have someone so passionate about the community, you can understand how he can get this done.”
There’s talk now about expanding it. Cagnetta got a call from a group in Orlando looking to copy the idea there, and he has considered expanding it elsewhere.
No matter how big it gets, Cagnetta says the point still will be to bring attention to the hungry. “I had a friend come up to me one year and say, ‘You made my daughter cry.’ I’m apologizing, and he’s like, ‘No, thank you. She didn’t know that there were kids out there who went to bed hungry.’”
Andy’s Family Pasta Dinner, 4-7 p.m. Feb. 28 at the Signature Grand, 6900 W. State Road 84, Davie, andyspastadinner.com. Kids are free; adult tickets cost $75, or sponsorships run $200 to $25,000.