There was magic in the air Friday night at the St. Gabriel the Archangel Church Festival.
It was a potent potion, mixing the smell of beer and fried dough with the sounds of Italian music and children’s laughter. The magic was enough to make Marion Cataldo, Teresa Mcardle and Bernice Payton, all in their 70s, feel young again.
“We come here every year,” Payton said with a laugh. “We love to dance, we love to sing, we love to socialize. We will be getting out there to dance soon.”
And with that, they moved off into the crowd, a bounce in their steps.
Now in its fifth year, the festival is a major fundraiser for the church, netting the parish about $25,000 last year. The parish uses the money for repairs and maintenance.
Joanne Russell, festival chairwoman, said the event, which continues today and Sunday, is the work of 250 volunteers who put in countless hours.
“We have been cooking for the last three months, preparing and freezing things,” she said.
The volunteers cook all the food and staff all the venues, which include games of chance for the adults, rides and activities for the children and food — lots and lots of food — for everyone.
Russell said volunteers prepared 400 pounds of sausage, rolled 3,000 meatballs, fried up 140 pounds of eggplant and cooked 100 gallons of sauce. They also made pies and pastries, enough to fill a tent.
Last year, thousands visited the festival.
“They come here to eat, enjoy the music, walk around, put their kids on rides, gamble a bit,” Russell said.
Many come to support the church, including Kristin Page of Guilderland. She was there with her mother, Carol, who was married at St. Gabriel’s, and her four children, ages 18 months, 3, 5, and 6.
“We do it every year. We come for the rides and face painting, but mostly we come here to support the church,” Page said. “It is a good cause.”
Two of her children attend St. Gabriel’s Catholic school.
Chuck Slatternick, a church trustee and blackjack dealer in the games of chance tent, said the festival helps the church survive, but the task of putting it together is growing more difficult.
“It is hard to get people to do the cooking,” he said.
Slatternick said the church makes the most money on the food and pastries, and some money on the games of chance. The games are legalized gambling with $1 and $2 payouts.
Russell said finding volunteers is difficult and the parish had to reach out to other churches and organizations for help.
“Most of our workers are elderly. We do have a lot of middle-age people working, but we could use the young people to come forward and help,” she said. “It puts a burden on the core group of people who are helping.”
Lou Fazzone, president of the Sons of Italy Lodge, said several members of his group volunteered to help at the festival.
“We’re neighbors, and we are here to help them,” he said, “and to give them a little contribution.”
Today’s schedule includes a live broadcast by WQSH-FM (Crush 105.7) from 3 to 5 p.m., followed by performances involving children ages 5 to 12 from Ferrara Dance Studio and a live performance later by the band Harmony. Hours are 3 to 10 p.m.
Sunday’s schedule includes a performance by the St. Gabriel’s music ministry from 2 to 3 p.m., followed by the band Grand Central Station from 3 to 7 p.m. Hours are 2 to 7 p.m.