ROTTERDAM — Hundreds flocked to Our Lady Queen of Peace on Friday night to enjoy Italian specialties and entertainment at the parish's annual festa.
"It started as a modest family gathering and turned into a major community gathering," Co-Chairman Jim Stagnitti said of the three-day event, which has been held for more than 75 years. "It's the highlight of August for so many people."
Approximately 3,000 to 5,000 people attend the event each night over the course of the weekend at the parish on Princetown Road, Stagnitti said.
Our Facebook Live video from the event:
Stagnitti said while the live bands change every year, the food has stayed the same, including eggplant parmesan, meatball sandwiches, sausage and peppers, and fried dough, among others.
Between 250 to 300 people volunteer at the festa to ensure that it's running smoothly.
On Friday, Frances White of Rotterdam, a volunteer for the past 75 years, manned the ticket booth.
"It started as a small festa, but over the last 10 years it's become really big," she said looking around at the crowds of people. "I look forward to seeing people I don't get to see all year."
In addition to volunteering at the ticket booth, White helped stock the baked goods table by baking 20 loaves of bread.
"People come out for the food and the bands," she said. "They really enjoy it."
Ralph Denofio of Mariaville attended the festa on Friday for the first time in 15 years.
"I came as a little kid and I grew up in this neighborhood, so it's pretty heartwarming to see this big of a turnout," he said.
Denofio was joined by his wife and grandson as he enjoyed a bowl of cavatelli pasta.
"It tastes like my mom used to make," he said. "The older Italian ladies certainly know how to cook."
Inside the parish gymnasium, the Dino Cimino Quintet — Cathy Olsen, Pat DiCesare, Roger Held, Lew Petteys and Linda Ellen Brown — played music as guests sat and enjoyed the food.
The gig was a special one for the group as Cimino passed away on July 28 at the age of 84.
"The best way to memorialize a musician is to keep playing," said Brown, who stepped in to play the bass for Cimino.
Next to the band, Cimino's family set up a table with his photo, obituary and bass guitar.
"It was so sudden and it's still so fresh," Olsen said of Cimino's death. "He was such a big community guy, so we'll do this as long as they want us to."
Our Lady Queen of Peace's festa will be held on Saturday from 5-11 p.m. and Sunday from 3-9 p.m. at 210 Princetown Road.
Funk Evolution is scheduled to play on Saturday from 7-11 p.m. and Grand Central Station on Sunday from 6-9 p.m.