Ditoro girls are next generation of Festa volunteers

St. Anthony's holding annual event
From left: Gabriella, Donata, Doreen and Rafaela Ditoro stand under the Italian and American flags outside St. Anthony's Church.
From left: Gabriella, Donata, Doreen and Rafaela Ditoro stand under the Italian and American flags outside St. Anthony's Church.

It’s June of 2057 — Donata, Rafaela and Gabriella Ditoro are still on the job at St. Anthony’s Festa.

The women greet friends at the pizza fritte booth. All three have been serving sugar-topped fried dough since they were teenagers, back during the early 2000s.

In the future, the Ditoro sisters are veterans of the kitchen staff — the group of men and women who produce the rosette and biscotti cookies, cavatelli, meatballs and sausage for the annual late spring gathering outside St. Anthony’s Church at Park and Seward Places, just off Nott Street in Schenectady.

Mother Doreen Ditoro — age 98 in 2057 — still helps in the kitchen. Longtime church office manager Frank Ranucci is glad the family is still part of St. Anthony’s team.

Return to 2017 — the Ditoros and other volunteers are prepping the festival. The gathering never changes to much. The same people are always in the same places, like the fried dough and meatball sandwich booths. The same foods are always on the menu.

This year’s festa begins Friday and runs through Sunday.

Here’s the schedule:

  • Friday, 5 until 10 p.m., with Gem Vullo singing from 5 until 7 p.m. and music group “Harmony” playing from 7 until 10 p.m.
  • Saturday, 3 until 10 p.m., with music by “Human Jukebox” Edd Clifford from 5 until 7 p.m. and “The Good Times” from 7 until 10 p.m.
  • Sunday, 1 p.m., special church service followed by traditional procession.
  • Sunday, 2 until 9 p.m., with music by Ed Salvo and Friends from 3 until 5 p.m. and “Crush” from 6 until 9 p.m.

The menu is full. Minestra, eggplant parmigiana, tripe, calzones, prosciutto sandwiches, sausage and pepper sandwiches, fried ravioli, hot dogs, zeppolle, stuffed shells and peaches and wine will all be available.


Free parking is available at Golub corporate headquarters at 461 Nott St.

Ditoro family members have been fixtures at the fried dough station since 1985, when Doreen joined the church and decided to volunteer.

“The pastor at the time, I said, ‘What do I do?’ He said ‘Pizza fritte,’ ” Doreen said. “I’ve been in that booth since 1985.”

Doreen also picked up foods cooked at the church convent on Van Vranken Avenue and delivered them to the church. She became a Eucharistic minister, taught religious education and visited parishioners who could not leave their homes.

The Ditoro girls’ first festa chores required speed and agility. They were always running from one place to another, up steps, down steps, fetching things volunteers needed for the kitchen. 

“At five years old, we were stretching dough at the festa,” said Gabriella, 26.

“And running down to the kitchen to tell them we need more dough,” said Donata, 29.

“And refilling the water jugs at the booths,” added Gabriella.

The Ditoros are all glad to help out St. Anthony’s at Festa time.

“This church, and I can speak for my sisters as well, is where we learned about God and love and a sense of community,” said Rafaela, 28. “And of course, there’s always Sister.”

Sister Maria Rosa Querini, a revered figure at St. Anthony’s for the past 50 years, has been the longtime kitchen supervisor for festa and other events. While Sister Maria has a staff of volunteers who have worked the June party for decades, women like Donata, Rafaela and Gabriella will ensure the party will keep going.

“I do learn a lot from them,” Rafaela said of senior kitchen cooks. “They’ve taught me a lot of good cooking ‘hacks,’ kind of like tricks or shortcuts. Also some things I just didn’t do.”


Rafaela added the designation as the “next generation” can be a little scary. Women who have worked the festa detail for decades have always put in long days.

“You have to be here to see how these women work,” Rafaela said. “They carry 50 pounds of flour, they’re on their feet eight hours in a hot kitchen. They never complain and they’re there the next morning on time.”

“With their aprons washed,” added Donata. “They went home and did laundry.”

The Ditoros are glad they can carry on the family legacy — father David Ditoro works behind the scenes. The women are also happy to learn the church women’s recipe secrets.

Doreen Ditoro, 58, is just pleased her daughters have chosen to follow her lead.

“I’ve never asked them, they’re so devoted,” Doreen said. “They’ve always been devoted to heritage, family and to the church, I’m very blessed.”

Gabriella has been spending busy mornings at the church, cutting and cooking 200 pounds of onions one day, cutting up 50 pounds of peppers the next day. On Friday, she’ll bake bread before driving to work at the Warren, Washington & Albany Counties Chapter of ARC, which assists people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Gabriela is a direct support provider.

Donata, an ARC program manager, has great memories of festa time. She said she’d find a reason to visit the church hall, where women were making cannoli. There were always broken shells around.

“They’d fill them up for me and put cherries on both ends,” she said.

“She still does it,” added Gabriella.

Working the pizza fritte booth is actually kind of relaxing.

“You would think it’s crazy because of the amount of people,” said Rafaela, a taxpayer services representative for the state Department of Taxation and Finance. “But you’re just so familiar with the people working in the booth, and it’s a lot less stressful than people would assume. It’s fun. You get to chat and sing and dance.”

Ranucci said the young women respect the history of St. Anthony’s. He believes they represent the younger members of the church and are inspirations to others.

“We’re very fortunate to have the Ditoro girls being part of St. Anthony’s Church and part of the festa,” Ranucci said.

The Ditoros understand volunteers keep their Festa duties year after year. There is no movement; somebody working in the pastry booth one year will never transfer to another food section. They will stay at the pastry station — forever.

So by 2057, the Ditoros will still be serving pizza fritte.

“You stay until you die,” said Donata, only half kidding.

Chefs have been busy preparing for the festa.

When the party begins Friday at 5 p.m., these foods will be in stock:

  • 1,490 chocolate chip cookies
  • 5,590 rosette cookies
  • 3,700 biscotti cookies
  • 8,500 meatballs
  • 900 pounds cavatelli
  • 2,200 bags, pepper cookies
  • 1,250 bags, wine biscuits
  • 500 pounds Italian sausage
  • 1,250 gallons homemade sauce 

Reach Gazette Reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124, at [email protected] or @jeffwilkin1 on Twitter.

Categories: Life and Arts

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