Many hungry competitors were clamming up for a worthy cause in Island Park last Sunday.
The Island Park Fire Department and Peter’s Clam Bar, on Long Beach Road, hosted the annual clam-eating contest, and almost everyone was wearing blue and crowding in to watch. The contestants kept smiling as the crowd cheered them on.
This year, the event raised about $25,000, which will go to Beyond the Badge New York, an organization that supports those with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and mental health care for first responders.
Two contests were held at the event: the public challenge and the first responders’ challenge.
The first responders’ challenge required no entry fee, but contestants must be firefighters, police, EMS or emergency managers. Cash prizes from that contest are split between the first responder’s home agency and that year’s charity. This year, Pete Adams won $2,500 for first place for Island Park Fire Department after eating 174 clams in seven minutes.
The open public challenge requires a $50 entry fee and the cash prizes, which go directly to the winner, are smaller than the prizes in the first responders’ challenge.
The contestants include competitive eaters from as far away as Florida. Joe Merchetti from Cheshire, Conn. won $1,000 for first place this year after eating 151 clams in five minutes.
“There’s no better feeling in the world,” Merchetti said.
Butch Yamali, owner of Peter’s Clam Bar, donates the $6,250 in winnings and the thousands of clams needed.
“I have known Butch since we were teenagers,” Adams, an Island Park resident, said.
“He’s a really great guy. I’ve known Butch for 50 years. He does so much for the community, for all the organizations he belongs to.”
At last year’s contest, Michael Fischer, a firefighter, collapsed just after he had arrived, and died of a heart attack. He was later posthumously promoted to honorary chief. At this year’s contest, a moment of silence was held for Fischer.
“Mike would have wanted traditions like this to continue,” said Congressman Anthony D’Esposito, who is also an ex-chief and current member of the Island Park Fire Department and a retired New York Police Department detective.
D’Esposito and Yamali started the clam-eating contest in 2014. D’Esposito, who serves as the emcee and organizer of the event, has not missed the contest once during these past nine years, but has never been a contestant.
“It’s a great community organization, where people come together and support their community,” D’Esposito said.
The initial goal in 2014 was to raise money to replace equipment that the local area fire departments lost during Hurricane Sandy.
The Island Park “firehouse was wrecked, and I wanted to do everything I could to help them and the families of first responders,” said Yamali, who was raised in Island Park.
In recent years, proceeds have gone to the Nassau County Firefighter Burns Center and the Nassau County Firefighters Museum and Education Center. Proceeds from last year’s contest went to Cooper Graham, the Oceanside Fire Department commissioner’s young son, who developed a rare form of juvenile cancer.
Each year, the contest draws 20 or more first responders and, on average, 20 members of the public to see who can eat the most clams.
Peter’s Clam Bar has been part of the community for 84 years. In 2024, the Island Park Fire Department will celebrate its 100th year.
Yamali said it’s the biggest clam-eating contest in the northeast.
“It’s sloppy, too — a lot of people, with clams all over the place,” Yamali said. “It’s a lot of fun.”