I have to admit right off the bat that the real reason I’ve attended at least the last 20 of these St. Joseph’s Festa’s is the fried dough. The zeppole rules. Not being particularly religious, or sociable, or prone to game-playing, I can smell those fat little pockets of deep-fried dough from miles away. And this year, with St. Joe’s running its 37th extravaganza over at the church grounds on South Chestnut Street, I of course made a bee-line to the fried dough counter and got my fix (six zeppole covered in powdered sugar) and wept.
Of course there are those, like lead coordinator for the Festa Dave Moore, who have a lot more things to do than taste the fare. Moore’s been involved in the Festa for over 20 years, first in the church booth, then as a set-up coordinator — he has a background in construction — and now as The Man. Got a problem? See Dave. “We’ve had around 2,000 people a night to deal with, so our 200 volunteers — who work in two shifts — are indispensable to make this a success.”
Moore and the crews set it all up on Sunday, batten down the hatches Monday and Tuesday, rest on Wednesday and open the Festa on Thursday. “It wouldn’t work as well as it has over the past years if it weren’t for the team togetherness of the volunteers and the 43 coordinators.”
The original Festa was the brainchild of the then Sons of Italy, before being taken over by the church itself. It’s been held on the church grounds every year but three in the mid-1990’s, when the long-gone Father Bill wanted to expand it to Hasbrouck Park. “It was too expensive to move all the equipment to the park and the last year there we caught a terrible rain storm that washed out the last night, so we came back here, a little smaller in size, but ready to go.” Moore says that the coordinators begin planning for the next Festa the day after this one is finished. “We own all the equipment, save the tables and chairs, so the expenses are the same, relatively, year after year.” As are the laid-back good-time vibes. And the food.
With a list like something out of James Joyce, the Festa has “fried dough and sausage and peppers and chicken parm and meatballs galore and wings and hamburger, cheeseburger, Pepsi, calzone and corn-on-the-cob and hot dogs and ice cream and beer, beer, beer and pizza and french fries and downstairs in the pastry kitchen are cannoli, napoleon, sfogliatelle, cream puffs…washed down with a little espresso.” WHEW! There’s also games of chance, games of skill, craft tables, religious articles, rides, face painting, raffles, a dunking booth (manned by youth members of St. Joe’s) and music…lots of music: The Italian band Roberto Milanese on Thursday, Breakaway on Friday and The Chain Gang on Saturday. All this to provide funds for the operation of St. Joseph’s Church.
Festa sponsors are all local businesses and service providers. “It’s a great time because everyone involved wants it that way,” added Moore, as I shove the last of the zeppole’s into my mouth, nodding my approval. “We all work so well together and for a good community cause.”
So here’s to St. Joe’s Festa 37 and looking forward to number 38.