Jeane Marchitto of Rotterdam can never miss the annual summer party at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Schenectady.
"It's like a magnet, it just draws you every year," said Marchitto, who at 90-plus has volunteered at the festa for decades. "It's something you want to do."
Parishioners and friends of the church on Pleasant Street, in the city's Mont Pleasant section, will also want to be around Mt. Carmel when the tents, food booths and rides open Friday at 5 p.m. The festa will run until 10 p.m. opening night; Saturday and Sunday hours are 5 to 10 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m., respectively.
The festa has been a Mt. Carmel tradition since 1922, when the church opened its original Schenectady Street location. The Pleasant Street church, located between 9th Avenue and Hodgson Street, opened in 1962.
"It's extremely important," said Rev. Peter Pagones, who became Mt. Carmel's pastor on Jan. 1, 2016, and remains pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Schenectady. "It brings the community together in a way nothing else does."
Italian foods are the big attraction. Mt. Carmel's festa, which will be held in the parking lot across the street from the church (near the rectory) and in the small parking lot between the church building and the church hall, also offers carnival rides, kids' games, raffles and music.
The short stretch of Pleasant Street between 9th and Hodgson will be closed for the party. The church hall will be open.
For music, the Rogues will perform Friday from 7 until 10 p.m. Harmony will be on stage Saturday from 7 until 10 p.m. and Grand Central Station will play Sunday from 6 until 9 p.m.
Volunteers have been baking, cooking and freezing cookies, meatballs and tomato sauce since April. They like helping the church, but they also like working together; church members have known each other for most of their lives. Veteran festa personnel have been on the job for many years.
"It's fun for the workers because those who come to volunteer enjoy the camaraderie, enjoy doing what they do," said Bill Doberneck, 85, of Rotterdam, who has chaired the festival five times. "It's just the thing to do come July."
Marlene Mauriello, the chairwoman for this year's festa, said Mt. Carmel knows good Italian food. She said people from outside the Capital Region will call the church and ask for festa dates. "We have the best zeppole in the Northeast," she said, of ball-sized, deep-fried pastries.
Marchitto is one of the zeppole experts.
"It's a sweet fried dough; we make them with raisins and we put sugar on them," she said. "Some people like them without sugar; you can have them either way."
Either way, when people try them, Marchitto said they're hooked forever. They will always visit her booth for more zeppoles.
Toni Renna, 88, another Rotterdam resident, works with Marchitto at the zeppole stand. She believes the festa is like a family reunion for church members. Lately, she added, more visitors are coming from outside the church community.
"The newest thing we've done is the $100 ticket raffle," Renna said. "One hundred tickets are sold. The winner gets $5,000, so does the church."
Festa weekend also brings special religious services. On Thursday, a 9 a.m. mass will be said in the Italian language. "This year, Father Carlino (Rev. Richard Carlino from St. Anthony's Church) is going to be doing that because I don't speak Italian," Pagones said.
On Friday, a 9 a.m. service will begin the festa. After Sunday's 9:30 a.m. service, a procession around the neighborhood will be held.
Festa organizers know there is competition for summer weekend parties, especially on Friday. Schenectady's annual "Summer Night Out" will be held in the city's downtown the same night the festa opens. Mauriello said the church must keep its mid-July weekend because the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on July 16.
Schenectady City Councilman Vince Riggi hopes people will attend both events.
"It starts at 5 o'clock," Riggi said of the festa. "If they want to go to Mt. Carmel first, get a little something to eat, walk around and visit people because it is a nice community event. It's so important to support our churches now, not just Catholic churches but all churches, because they are the one thing we have in the city right now that brings people together, neighborhoods together, and they do stabilize the neighborhoods."
Riggi - he and his wife Donna often attend services at Mt. Carmel - believes festa revenues are an important boost for a church's annual budget. He set up a meeting with church and county officials this past winter to see if the county could run the "Summer Night" party on another date. Another time was not possible.
So Riggi hopes people will at least begin their weekend on Pleasant Street, and stick around a while. "They need three successful nights," he said of the festa.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124, firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.