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Fava Day celebration raises funds for kids with cancer
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Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds to fill their bellies with beans and linguica for the 19th annual celebration of “Fava Day.” The only thing is that there is no Fava Day … at least not officially.

What began as a practical joke by dairyman Joe Fagundes has grown into a yearly fundraiser that has raised more than $200,000 for children diagnosed with cancer.

The story begins back in 1993 when Fagundes, noticing his patch of fava beans were plump and ready for harvesting, decided to cook up a batch for himself and the men working at his ranch shop.

“You might not be hungry, but when you smell those beans sautéing with garlic and onions, you get hungry,” Fagundes said in describing the allure of the legume.

One such person drawn in by the appetizing aroma was Fagundes’ longtime friend Dave Mendonca, who wanted to know what Fagundes had cooking in the pot. Never one to pass up a chance to pull someone’s leg with a well-timed joke, Fagundes told Mendonca and the crowd of hungry men that it was Fava Day and that “in Portugal and all of its colonies, everyone makes fava beans on May 9.”

“All the men were laughing, because they knew I was joking,” Fagundes said. “Dave was laughing too, so I thought he got the joke, but the next year he came up tom me and said ‘Fava Day is coming up soon.’ Now, when you tell a lie, you don’t remember it, so I asked him what he was talking about. It was then that he knew he had fallen for another joke.”

It might have been a joke, but the idea of a Fava Day party sounded too good to pass up, so Fagundes recruited friends and family for a fava bean cookout. It was at the impromptu cookout that the idea of using Fava Day as a fund raiser first came to light.

“Someone suggested we could raise funds for politicians, and I said if we were going to raise money it should be for a good cause, like helping kids with cancer,” Fagundes said. “I jumped up on a trailer and yelled out to the crowd if they wanted to raise money for kids with cancer.” The crowd roared back with their approval and Fava Day as a fund raiser was born.

Since then the event has grown beyond Fagundes’ expectations. At Wednesday’s cookout, more than 700 people showed up and made donations tallying up to about $20,000, Fagundes said.

The event still relies on a loyal cadre of volunteers, who do everything from husking the beans to gathering items for the auction.

Keeping a watchful eye on the 80-gallon pot brimming with 600 pounds of fava beans, 75 pounds of linguica, and 10 pounds of garlic, is longtime Fava Day cook Vivian Soares.

“You could give her a handful of sticks and she’ll make it taste good,” Fagundes said.

Every year the event donates the funds to a couple of children. This year’s recipients are 18-month-old Jryiaun and 6-year-old Arianna.

Jryiaun was diagnosed last year with medulloblastoma. He had a malignant brain tumor removed and has undergone six cycles of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant using his own harvested bone marrow cells. He is currently in the recovery stage, which includes multiple doctors’ visits, scans and medications.

Arianna was diagnosed in February as having a rare and inoperable cancerous brain tumor called brain stem glioma. She has been undergoing radiation treatments in an effort to shrink the aggressive tumor.

“The event has grown so much and it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth every bit of it when you meet the kids it helps,” Fagundes said. “We meet these kids who don’t know what it feels like to be healthy and it becomes pretty personal for all of us.”