“We’re back, and we’re stronger than ever.”
Those were the words Elaine Dinardo Williams shouted proudly over the speakers at St. Anthony’s Festa on Friday evening. After the tragic fire that heavily damaged the interior of St. Anthony’s in March, those words couldn’t be truer for the church’s close-knit community.
“The fire not only did significant damage to the interior of the church, but it revealed to us other things that need to be reconstructed. We want to make the church ready for the next generations; that’s one of the greatest gifts we can give the community,” said Frank Ranucci, the office manager at St. Anthony’s.
While insurance will cover any damage done by the fire, Ranucci says the church aims to raise $250,000 to totally restore the building. Repairs will include fixing a crumbling foundation, adding handicap accessibility and improving the drainage system.
The annual Festa is nearly as old as the church itself, and each year offers live music, activities for kids and over a dozen home-cooked Italian meals.
Despite the fact the church is still unusable and the kitchen was fixed only weeks before the Festa kicked off, the volunteers at St. Anthony’s were still able to pull it off.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Sister Maria Rosa with a laugh as she directed volunteers around the kitchen, “and it was extra work this year. But we got here.”
Sister Maria explained that putting the Festa together is almost a year-round job. In September, she starts to buy fresh vegetables like eggplant that will be necessary for the various meals. From then on, they continue to prepare. Two weeks before the big weekend, 30 volunteers join Sister Maria to cook and bake for the crowd of over 10,000 that attend every year.
“For us, the Festa means community, and this year I knew St. Anthony wouldn’t let us down. It’s a beautiful time not only to eat and have fun, but for some folks, this is the only time they will reconnect and see each other,” said parishioner Phyllis Derenski, who was married at St. Anthony’s 58 years ago and baptized at the church long before that.
Like hundreds of other community members, St. Anthony’s has become a central point of her life.
“It’s the first time we’ve been out here, and it’s very nice,” said Frank Risler of Latham, who was enjoying the Festa with his wife, Cheryl. “We’re glad to give our money to good food and a good cause.”
For the rest of the weekend, tents will line the street and people will serve up dozens of authentic meals. There will music, a rock wall and a petting zoo for kids.
The main part of the church was opened up to show the community the extent of the damage done by the fire. People were encouraged to sit and watch a video detailing the history of St. Anthony’s and explaining the dire need for donations to fix the church’s structural issues.
Ranucci said it’s been an honor to be able to do so much for a community that he’s been a part of since his boyhood.
“It’s been difficult, but it’s not impossible,” he said. “With a little help, we know we can accomplish our goals.”