The roughly 30 women of the Sicilian-Italian American Women's Club are a smallish but mighty group, baking up thousands of Italian cookies for the 71st Annual Italian-American Festival in downtown Akron.

The women hope to sell out by the end of the three-day festival, which began Thursday. It continues on a stretch of Main Street and at Lock 3 park from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and noon to 11 p.m. Saturday.

"Each member is required to make 10 dozen cookies. One member made about 900 cookies," Vita Signorino Moore, president of the group, said Thursday at the fest. She sounded still in awe of the member who baked some 75 dozen.

Along with yummy Italian goodies, the group, which began in 1932, is soliciting new members. A stack of membership applications is on the sales table in the club's booth, which boasts a red and yellow banner that's similar to the Sicilian flag.

"We're trying to strengthen our numbers — a lot of our members are getting up in age," said Moore, who lives in Cuyahoga Falls and is a claims manager for FirstEnergy Corp.

Members don't have to be of Italian descent. You just have to be married to someone who is, Moore said.

Those members "don't get to vote, but they still get to have fun with us," she said.

The cookie case is stocked with a variety of Italian cookies, including S cookies — "S for Sicily and Santalucia," said Gloria Chalfant on Thursday of the traditional Sicilian cookies she made that include fresh-squeezed lemon juice and fresh-squeezed orange juice.

Chalfant, who lives in Akron and teaches at St. Sebastian preschool, explained that her mother's maiden name was Santalucia, and her mother taught her to make the cookies.

There also are pistachio cookies, three-layed cookies made with almond paste, raspberry thumbprints, pinwheels, butter balls and more.

Also at the festival, club members sell homemade cannoli — a pastry that originated in the Italian island of Sicily — and the club's version of margherita pizza, pizza dough deep fried on site and topped with red sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. The fried dough also is used for fritte. Think Italian Elephant ears. The warm fried dough is topped with sugar or sugar and cinnamon. 

Proceeds help fund scholarships.

Among the festival goers Thursday was Zach Darst, 30, of Barberton, and Will Badgett, 32, of Akron, both union pipe fitters who are installing and welding underground steam pipes for the big downtown Main Street reconstruction project.

Both got big Italian sausage sandwiches from one of the festival's vendors.

They're enjoying the steady work the construction project provides, as well as the downtown, they said, even if passersby occasionally vent to them about the streets being torn up.

"I've had people passing by saying, `Hey [expletive], you're messing up the city,' '' Badgett said, quickly adding, "But they'll appreciate it in the long run."

Vendors include Corbo's Bakery of Cleveland's Little Italy and DiRusso Italian Sausage of Youngstown and the local Sons of Italy club, which is selling meatball subs and grilled sausage sandwiches.

A new vendor this year is Pelino's Pasta out of Columbus. It offers made-from-scratch pasta and other eats.

For more information on the Italian-American Festival, including a complete schedule of music, children's activities and other events, go to it-am.org.

Next weekend the area's other Italian fest will take over a portion of Front Street in downtown Cuyahoga Falls. For information on this fest, including the music lineup, go to www.festaitalianacf.com.

 Send local food news to Katie Byard at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com. You can follow her @KatieByardABJ on Twitter or on Facebook.