LIMA — A local organization dedicated to celebrating and honoring the Italian-American community in Lima and surrounding counties hopes to reboot and restart activities after nearly two years of pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Charitable Italian American Organization of Lima — known to many around the region as CIAO of Lima — was founded decades ago when the Milano Cafe was located on Main Street in downtown Lima.
Current president Doug Wise said no one has the specific date of founding of the organization, but he said it was “a long, long time ago.” Wise is one of many in the region with Italian heritage, explaining he has ancestors from Italy as well as Germany and French Canada.
The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with membership “comprised of Americans with any amount of Italian ancestry either by birth or by marriage,” according to the group’s website. Wise said despite the pandemic-induced pause in club activities, there are between 500 and 800 members.
The club’s main mission is to raise money for students who are awarded college scholarships, Wise noted, an activity that has come to a virtual halt because of COVID-19.
“We are kind of forced into a holding pattern because when COVID hit, there were so many things we had to cancel,” Wise said. “Our fundraisers all got canceled. It has just been a big mess. We had a lot of things going and then it just (stopped).”
Board Member Michael Diglia, who hails from a multi-generational local Italian-American family, said he has been involved with CIAO for 20 to 25 years and said although the club has had some meetings in recent months, major activities such as fundraising events and the popular pasta dinner have been on hold due.
“At one time, it was a pretty large organization,” Diglia said. “Hopefully, we can bounce back from COVID. We have had a few (board) meetings, but the COVID has really put us down.”
Board member Parmie Andaloro Herman said COVID-19 “has curtailed most of our activities as it has for many organizations. We are struggling to restart activities.”
A statement on ciaolima.org details charitable giving members have engaged in over the years.
“We have thus far been able to give more than a quarter of a million dollars to those in need. Our motto is, ‘Our family helping others,’ and while preserving our Italian heritage is important to us, we give without regard to race, religion, creed, sex or national origin,” the statement reads. “Everything we do is for the betterment of our community and comes from the heart. Our Mission: to explore, preserve, celebrate and promote the Italian culture, language, history and traditions; perform charitable works and promote social interaction within our community.”
Wise said in a telephone interview that the goal of the CIAO board is to get back to in-person fundraising efforts so they can restart handing out scholarship funds to deserving students.
“We’d love to (restart) giving our scholarships. They aren’t just for Italians, we give them to anyone regardless of ancestry,” Wise said. “The scholarships are our bread and butter…We do it for the kids.”
As for restarting larger activities, Wise said that will be dependent on when the pandemic “wanes enough” for members to feel safe in group environments.