The smell of sausage, peppers, pizza and other Italian food staples wafted down Pleasant Street as people made their way down blocked roads hoisting lawn chairs and pushing baby strollers on their way to the neighborhood's annual three-day celebration: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church's Festa.
The annual summer party, which always falls across a weekend in July, has been a part of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel's history since the church first opened on Schenectady Street in 1922. The parish's current location, on Pleasant Street between 9th Avenue and Hodgson Street, opened in 1962.
According to church officials, its annual Festa must be held during a mid-July weekend because the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is celebrated on July 16.
Festa typically kicks off on a Friday with a 9 a.m. Mass at the church. A procession around the neighborhood is held after Sunday's 9:30 a.m. Mass.
For decades, the annual event has been a must attend for both parishioners and friends of the church in the city's Mont Pleasant section. On Sunday, it was evident that the event serves as a functioning meeting ground where friends and family reconnect, with attendees sometimes greeting one another with a large hug.
"I really do look forward to Festa every year," Darleen Lester, a Schenectady resident, said on Sunday night as she watched her two young children on a carnival ride. While Lester isn't a parishioner, the open nature of the celebration, where everyone is able to be Italian for the night, keeps her coming back. "The food is the best and my kids love the rides. I meet up with my friends every year, too."
Daily festivities began at 5 p.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Italian food was abound, with eggplant parmesan sandwiches, lemonade, and classic Italian cookies sold from tents that covered the large lot across from the church.
Along with Italian culinary delicacies, games, rides for children, a large garage sale and live music performances were among the highlights of the three day festival, which wrapped up on Sunday at 9 p.m.
Proceeds from the annual Festa fund Our Lady of Mount Carmel's outreach programs. Prior to the weekend, church volunteers work tirelessly to prepare for festa, with some focusing on decorating the area while others handling food prep.
This year, the time spent preparing for the festival was evident, even on Festa's final day. Volunteers indicated that they often begin baking cookies or cooking meatballs and tomato sauce in the spring, and freezing them for the mid-July event.
White, green and red streamers emphasizing the event's Italian roots swayed over the food tents in Sunday night's breeze as volunteers served curving lines of customers waiting to sample a little bit of everything.
While Festa usually sees large crowds on the first two nights, hundreds of people were still wandering into the lot across from the church early Sunday evening, setting up camp across a makeshift stage next to the church for a musical performance by Grand Central Station.
The church intentionally keeps Festa a politics-free event. Signs found on the festival site encourage people to leave their politics at home and instead, focus on each other's company.
"We couldn't have had a better weekend this year," one organizer said as he directed people toward the food tents as they arrived at the parking lot. "The sun is out, people are happy, and we really couldn't have asked for anything better."