The breeze tickling the trees around Henry and Vivian Soares’ home Monday afternoon carried with it the scent of a freshly picked harvest with a faint edge of newly turned soil.
Wooden crates were stacked high outside their garage with strips of vibrant green fava beans peeking through the slats. Inside the garage were about 60 people busying themselves with shelling mounds of pods piled up on the tables.
Moving between them scooping up the beans and offering some words of motivation and occasionally a joke, was Joe Fagundes, the founder of Fava Bean Day. This title thrust upon Fagundes is done with a wink, because as Fagundes likes to say, Fava Bean Day is “a big, old lie.”
This annual Turlock fundraiser — now in its 20th year — started as a bit of a joke cooked up one afternoon by Fagundes. Back in 1993, Fagundes was sautéing up a batch of beans at his ranch shop and on a whim told his workers and a friend that May 9 was Fava Bean Day in Portugal. Just for clarity’s sake, there is no such holiday in Portugal.
Fagundes was delighted for the day by his little tomfoolery, but had completely forgotten about it by the next May 9. That is until his friend reminded him Fava Bean Day was approaching.
“Now, when you tell a lie, you don’t remember it, so I asked him what he was talking about,” Fagundes said. “It was then that he knew he had fallen for another joke.”
It may have started out as a joke, but Fava Bean Day has turned into a yearly tradition that has raised thousands of dollars for children dealing with cancer diagnoses and brings together a group of volunteers Fagundes likes to call the “fava family.”
“The thing about this is that it isn’t just one or two people doing this,” Fagundes said. “By the time you count up all the people who help at the Fava Day itself, working the auction and stuff like that, we’re over a hundred people helping. And everyone who comes through that door becomes part of the fava family.”
With fava bean pods piled up around her elbows, first-time volunteer Victoria Donoso admitted that before last week she “had never even heard of a fava bean,” but came out because it felt like a worthy cause to support.
At the other end of the room were Iris Anderson and Eunice Dayton, who had been dubbed “quality control” and were charged with making sure only the best beans made it into the pot. Anderson has been a part of the grassroots effort since its inception and marveled at how it has grown over the years.
“I never thought it would get this big,” Anderson said.
Come Thursday all those freshly shelled fava beans will be sautéed with some garlic and onions and cooked with linguica for the hundreds looking to partake in the meal and make their donations.
This year the event will raise funds for 10-year-old Ashtin, 18-year-old Corbin, and 2-year-old Naima.
Ashtin was diagnosed this year with lymphobastic leukemia and has to have weekly chemotherapy treatments at Madera’s Children’s Hospital.
Corbin was 15 when he was first diagnosed with leukemia. The cancer was in remission for a couple of years, but resurfaced at the end of last year. He has been undergoing chemotherapy and is awaiting a bone marrow transplant.
Last year Naima was diagnosed with a tumor on her kidney and has been enduring regular chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the Children’s Hospital.
In the last 19 years, Fava Bean Day has raised more than $220,000 for the children selected as beneficiaries.
“It’s all money that comes from the heart — little or big, it’s all from the heart,” Fagundes said.
The Fava Bean Day celebration starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds in Building E-2.