Taste-testing Chicago toddler funds diabetes research through Zarlengo's ice cream

CHICAGO HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Aria Zarlengo is just shy of 2 years old but she has an important role: lead taste-tester for a no-sugar added, frozen treat product line for South suburban Chicago favorite, Zarlengo's Italian Ice & Gelato.

"Her job is to taste everything that's created," said Aria's mom, Jessica Zarlengo.

"I know that a batch is a winner if she tastes it, runs away, and then comes back for a second try," said Todd Zarlengo, Aria's dad.

In November of 2020 before her first birthday, Aria was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes after digestive problems prompted her parents to take her to the hospital. She was soon rushed to the emergency room and placed on intravenous fluids.

"We had never used a glucose monitor before so we poked her finger and it was over 500. She was in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis," said Todd.

"On the day that they told us the news that she had diabetes, it was a little heartbreaking," said Tom Zarlengo, Zarlengo's Italian Ice & Gelato founder and Aria's grandfather. "But what they've done is not looked at it as a negative but turned it into a positive."

Knowing that Aria could no longer partake in his family's frozen treats including Italian ice, gelato, ice cream and a variety of novelties, Todd decided to create versions that didn't raise her glucose level and sell them at Zarlengo's retail location in Chicago Heights.

"I'm going to make some tasty fun treats for my daughter and for other people that have Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, people on a ketogenic diet or [people] just watching their carbs in general," said Todd.

Less than a year after her diagnosis, Zarlengo's now sells Aria-branded ice cream sandwiches, Italian ice, and ice cream cups that don't budge glucose levels and help fund type 1 diabetes research at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis. The goal of the research is to cure the disease without immunosuppressant drugs.

"I'm creating products that never even existed before," said Todd. "You can just get it for a couple dollars and donate to a good cause while you're doing it."

Todd and Jessica believe that Aria is changing the world by inspiring the new product line. They are both hoping the money raised by these healthy treats leads to new technology and medicine in the fight against the disease.

"I have become so passionate about eradicating Type 1 diabetes," said Todd. "It's going to happen. I am not going to stop."

For more information, visit zarlengositalianice.com/aria