Before becoming a state trooper eight years ago, Michael Ferruccio was an engineer by day, and tended bar at the Grille on Main, a restaurant and bar in East Greenwich, by night. Stephen Marra, a successful restaurateur who passed away August 2011, hired him in 2002 and they quickly became friends.
It wasn’t long before Ferruccio realized Marra was more than a boss and friend; he was a generous man who donated his time and money to local organizations in need.
“He was a big philanthropist in the community,” said Ferruccio.
That’s why Marra’s family, including his parents, brother Michael Marra, twin sister Doreen Marra Bullock, and a group of friends, formed The Stephen Marra Foundation last year. Through the foundation, they not only honor him, but also continue his legacy of giving.
They plan to do just that on Saturday, as they host “Wine & Song,” a wine tasting fundraiser that will feature the music of Italian singer Steve Palumbo at Twist Restaurant at 336 Bald Hill Road from 1 to 4 p.m. Joe Zito from TV Maitre d’ will serve as the Master of Ceremonies.
The event marks the foundation’s second fundraiser, as they organized a 5K walk/run that took place in October of last year. Participants began at the Grille on Main and looped around the area before returning to the Grille. As a group, they raised more than $20,000.
“It was a big success,” Ferruccio said.
The goal of the upcoming event, said Ferruccio, is to raise more funds, as well as awareness for the foundation and the organizations they are helping. “Wine & Song” will benefit victims of Sandy Hook, plus Toys for Tots, Pawtuxet Valley Homeless Advocacy and the East Greenwich Animal Protection League. Representatives from each of the groups will attend and get a chance to inform guests of their individual efforts to assist the community.
“These organizations are going to be there to discuss what they do, and get a chance to get the word out to the public,” Ferruccio said. “It’s a good place to gather and inform people of what the organization is about, and where the proceeds go to.”
He predicts the event itself will be a good time. In addition to tastings of red and white wines, which were donated by Rhode Island distributors, there will be a blind wine tasting contest and a silent auction. Prizes include sports memorabilia, and items donated by local wine shops and artists.
“It is going to be a fun day,” Ferruccio said. “Steve was one of the earliest restaurateurs in the area, and was responsible for bringing what is now Main Street to life. This is something we feel would be dear to him, and is a way to introduce the foundation to people.”
Marra’s brother Michael agrees. He said he enjoys events because they allow his family to keep up the work they did to help others when Marra was alive.
“My family has always been philanthropic and Steve really led that,” Michael said. “My parents, my sister and myself continue to do the same type of work to support the organizations he supported, and some additional ones. It makes us feel really good to give back to the community, and continue doing the things he believed in.”
Marra’s twin sister, Doreen, feels the same. She said the Foundation means a great deal to their family, and they are proud of the work Marra did for the community.
“He touched a lot of lives and it’s nice to be able to continue to do so in his memory,” Doreen said. “With the foundation established, we will carry on the charitable work Stephen was so dedicated to and keep his giving spirit alive.”
Aside from being the owner of Marra Restaurant Group, which operates several restaurants throughout Rhode Island, Marra was a volunteer on the Rhode Island Hospitality Board of Directors, and served as chairman in 2010. He was the leader of Save Our State Campaign, the East Greenwich Smoking Ban, and many other causes, plus helped raise money for the Rhode Island Hospitality Association and its Education Foundation.
Further, he was active in many charities, including Cornerstone, Sargent Center, Surfers Healing, and Acts of Kindness, an organization Michael founded in 2002. Through Acts of Kindness, which is based in Rhode Island, Michael focuses on helping homeless people and animal shelters.
“Steve supported that,” Michael said. “He supported events that I did, and I went to a number of events that he did as well. Doing events like this reminds me of him and they are happy memories. When we have these events, it makes me feel good because we’re doing what he would have wanted.”
To purchase tickets for “Wine & Song,” which are $25 each, visit any Marra Restaurant Group location, including Twist on Bald Hill Road near the Warwick Mall, Cucina Twist at 2095 Kingstown Road in South Kingstown, Cucina at 900 Victory Highway in Slatersville, and the Grille on Main at 50 Main Street. Tickets are also available at Rok Bar n Grill, a new establishment operated by a friend of Marra located across the street from the Grille. Tickets can also be purchased at the event.