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Pizza-eating contest raises money for cancer

The defending champions of last year's competition Phil

The defending champions of last year's competition Phil Kraese, 42, of South Huntington (front left) and James Finnegan, 41, of Port Jefferson (front right) try to chew their way to another victory at the 10th annual pizza-eating contest at Nina's Pizza in Northport. The event raises money for the St. Baldrick's Foundation, which works to fund research on curing cancer in children. (Aug. 5, 2012) Credit: Amanda Ostuni

Artie Berke, owner of Nina's Pizza on Main Street in Northport, has hosted an annual pizza-eating contest for 10 years to raise money for different charities.

But this year's contest, held Sunday afternoon, was the second-consecutive year that proceeds went to the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

"St. Baldrick's Foundation is something I feel strongly about," said Berke, 42, of Northport. "Anything to find a cure for cancer so that children won't have to go through this painful disease, I'll work as hard as I can to make this happen."

Berke worked with Northport residents Mike Adams, 18, who is a volunteer for St. Baldrick's, and John McKenna, a former member of the foundation's board of directors, to expand the event and attract more participants from all over Long Island.

Last year, the contest raised more than $7,000 and had 50 participants. This year, there were 24, a drop Berke blames on the heat. But as of 1:30 p.m. Sunday, they had raised more than $2,600 and donations were still coming in.

"To see so many people willing to engorge themselves to benefit others is fantastic," said McKenna, 47.

As per contest rules, teams of two, which can enter only if each participant raises at least $100, compete until any one team finishes their 30-inch pie.

Mistakenly, there was no official time recorded, but team Clipper Ship was this year's winner. Northport residents Edward Wawrzonek, 44, and Chris Hallem, 41, stuffed their faces as fast as they could to become the champions and raised $350 for the cancer foundation.

"I think it's a great thing to raise money for kids with cancer," said Wawrzonek. "It gives me a good feeling that I could help out, even though it's a small contribution."

Although a small ,off-season event like the pizza-eating contest raises small amounts compared with the foundation's signature St. Patrick's Day head-shaving fundraiser, it still raises awareness and encourages people to continuously help in the effort to cure children with cancer.

“The Northport community is very great for being so involved with St. Baldrick’s,” said John Granger, of Northport, whose 11-year-old son Andrew is a cancer patient currently in remission.

And although Erik Hansen and Keith Tuzzolino of Team Gavones came in second in the pizza-eating contest, they raised more than $2,500 -- the most money of any team. That made Hansen, 39, of Rocky Point, feel like they at least had a "moral victory."

"It's for a good cause, so we're happy," said Tuzzolino, 28, of Dix Hills.

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