Donne di Domani’s Delicious, Dedicated Donations

three clear glass jars on blue and white textile

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

What does tomato sauce have in common with the University of Houston? More specifically, how does marinara sauce and UH scholarships go together?

The common link is Donne di Domani, Houston’s Italian-American women-owned organization. Every year, a group of volunteers for Donne di Domani sells marinara sauce, and the proceeds fund scholarships in modern and classical languages and the Italian Studies Program at UH College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences.

Donne di Domani, founded in 1985, was designed to be an organization of women with Italian lineage, either through birth or marriage, that fosters an awareness of the Italian culture and heritage. They chose the name Donne di Domani — Italian for ‘women of tomorrow’ — to reflect their commitment to look to the future as well as to remember the past. Before long, supporting local charities became a top priority.

Because Italian women are known for their cooking, the women of Donne di Domani had the idea of selling homemade marinara sauce as a fundraiser at St. John Vianney Catholic Church’s annual festival.

“Marinara sauce is a tomato-based sauce with no meat and with spices,” said Sandra Harris, a Donne di Domani member and retired teacher of Italian at UH. “Our recipe evolved from the group of women in our group. It’s a mixture of a lot of recipes from the charter members’ mamas.”

The women used the cooking facilities at St. John’s to adapt the spices and the quantity of tomatoes to the number of jars they were making in any given year. In 1990, the group made the move to the Houston Ballet’s holiday Nutcracker Market at Astro Hall. The sauce sold for $12 per jar.

It didn’t take long for the marinara project to outgrow the kitchen at St. John’s, and soon Donne di Domani decided to work with a commercial kitchen to prepare the sauce.

“Our ladies can only do so much!” said Pactor. “We kept the recipe, and it now goes through the requirements for allergy testing and health inspections that a professional kitchen can provide. It’s made of all-natural products; it’s gluten free and is a very healthy product.”

The fact that a Houston-born, Italian-based sauce funds an Italian educational opportunity at UH, Houston’s university, seems like a natural connection.

“We have a specific focus for donating our money to UH,” said Pactor. “For us, it’s Italian Studies. We want to support people who share our love for the Italian culture. We develop a personal connection to the people who use our funds.  If you’re considering donating to the University and have a specific type of cause, just discuss it, and UH can help make it happen.”

Harris mentioned that when you donate to UH, you can participate in the selection of scholarship recipients. “Most UH students work and go to school, and we felt it was important to give scholarships based on financial need, as well as merit. We also wanted to hear from the applicants how our scholarships could benefit them. UH has always cooperated with us in structuring the awards.”

Harris wants potential donors to feel confident that their gifts will be carefully overseen. “You can feel confident that your funds are cared for and supervised correctly. UH handles the financial accounting and scholarship funds are deposited directly into the student accounts, not to fund travel to Italy or other activities. It’s very controlled — and that’s a compliment to the University.”

Visit Donne di Domani for more information about the marinara sauce fundraiser.