SCHENECTADY – As the community welcomes yet another cherished festa this summer, guaranteed to make mouths water at the smell of freshly made authentic Italian dishes in the air, some may wonder: “How do they do it? How could there possibly be enough helping hands to make it all happen?”
Rev. Matthew H. Frisoni of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church said his church’s festa, as well as the other two in the area — St. Anthony’s in June and Our Lady Queen of Peace in August — are all similar in the sense that they are only made possible with a devoted community.
“All three are very similar — very, very dedicated volunteers who sacrifice many, many hours to make this happen … We are all of the same spirit,” Frisoni said. “The good Lord gives us the gifts to be able to gather together for festa, not just for ourselves, but for the family.”
Before the official kickoff of Our Lady of Mount Carmel’s three-day festival, there will be the continuation of its giant garage sale from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday on the church grounds at 1255 Pleasant St. in Schenectady. Gathered from community members looking to get rid of some of their belongings, various items will be available for purchase.
As the evening sets in – the festa will take its full form from 5 to 10 p.m. – attendees can expect to find an array of Italian fare, including broccoli linguini with clam sauce, fried calamari, eggplant sandwiches, steak sandwiches, pizza, Italian ice and — one of Frisoni’s favorites — the cavatelli meatballs.
Those whose stomachs insist on seconds or thirds can return Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m.
Visitors can test their luck with various drawings throughout the weekend. A $500 drawing will occur each night and a $5,000 drawing will take place on Sunday. Raffle tickets will also be drawn for a selection of gift baskets containing local business gift certificates and other personalized goods put together by parishioners of the church.
Musical entertainment is scheduled each day from 6 to 9 p.m., starting Friday with Hands of Time. On Saturday, The Heaters are welcomed to the stage and Grand Central Station performs on Sunday.
All the planning and preparation that goes into bringing the festa to the area begins just about as soon as one ends. For Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, there’s no time to waste.
Approximately 150 church volunteers can be found in the kitchen as early as 5 a.m. conversing over the sound of sizzling onions and peppers on skillets and eggplant slices frying to a golden-brown crisp. Even cooking some 275 pounds of sausage is no burdening chore to helpers like Laura Corniello, 74, who immigrated from Italy years ago and has been helping at the church since her daughter was in kindergarten.
“I enjoy coming in and working with the girls. We complain, we laugh. We just got to keep the church going,” Corniello said.
Corniello is looking forward to this event that serves as a way to bring family and friends together — especially because, reflecting back on the days when she was a little girl going to church, she recalls the pews always being filled. But now, she said, fewer people go to church. So the church community that is left is more important than ever before.
“Everybody would dress up, [in their] Sunday best. But we can’t complain, we still have a church and that’s the main thing,” Corniello said.
This year, Marlene Mauriello, one of the festa chairpersons, expects a big turn out following the two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the church has been receiving many phone calls from the public asking if the festa is back on this year.
“People are excited,” Mauriello said. “We have people from all over, they come from out of the area and of course we have people who used to be parishioners here and they’ve moved away and they come back. It’s like a reunion.”