Grab your tickets now! On Friday, April 28, Novella’s restaurant will host a semi-formal dinner/dance as a fundraiser for St. Joseph’s Church in New Paltz. Besides a sumptuous buffet dinner, a cocktail hour featuring beer and wine plus a cash bar, and dancing to tunes selected by a deejay, the Spring Gala will include a silent auction that promises to be anything but ordinary.
Such auctions are a common feature of fundraising events for churches and other not-for-profit organizations; the offerings at St. Joe’s upcoming Gala, however, won’t be limited to the usual selection of store and restaurant gift certificates and baskets of goodies. There will be artworks, tickets to a Mets game, a four-night stay at a condo in Williamsburg, Virginia and a week’s vacation on the Gulf Coast of Florida — all very enticing. But what makes this particular silent auction truly special is the ever-growing list of donated services. Parishioners are being asked to give of their time and special areas of expertise, providing truly memorable, one-of-a-kind experiences. “All have something that we can contribute,” says Father Salvatore Cordaro, OFM, pastor of St. Joseph’s. “God doesn’t give a gift to be hidden away.”
For instance, are you crazy about the delicious biscotti made by Bella’s Home Baked Goods? Do you wish you knew how to make them yourself, so that you don’t have to shell out $7+ for a package every time you want some to dip in your espresso? Or would you like to experiment with new flavor combinations? A lucky auction bidder will be able to claim a Biscotti Baking Class for four, taught by Deanna Breault at Bella’s bakery in Highland.
Wouldn’t it be fun to have Terri Colucci and College of Culinary Arts graduate Dan Shand prepare a special Dinner Party for Six and serve it to a lucky group of friends or family in your own home? Or would it tickle your fancy more to have Father Sal himself come to your house and whip up a traditional Italian Sunday dinner?
Other personalized service options include an Architectural Portrait in Pen & Ink by Cami Fischer and Architectural Drafting Services by Thomas Murray. And if you want to feel really special (or make someone else feel that way), go for the Light up the Mid-Hudson Bridge package, where you get to choose the colors and the day! A truly serious (and optimistic) Mets fan might want to spring for both the Shea Stadium tickets and the right to deck the bridge in blue-and-orange as World Series time draws nigh.
“Last June, it was our 50th anniversary, and we celebrated at Novella’s,” recounts Father Sal. “Everyone had such a good time, and people were saying, ‘We should do this every year.’” The Spring Gala is the first step forward on a new path for the parish — one that, this year at least, will not include a Festa in late summer. “We’re very proud of the Festa. It had a wonderful run,” he says of the 40-year-old parish tradition. “But we have to be open to change when change is needed.”
When St. Joe’s hosted its first Festa, organized by the local Sons of Italy chapter, the parish was more ethnically homogeneous, and it was the only Italian street festival in the area, he explains. “It was a special moment for that Italian community. But it has become very common, and attendance has gone down. Even San Gennaro, in Little Italy in New York City – even interest in that is waning. There’s a dramatic reduction of interest in young people coming.”
An aging and dwindling pool of volunteer labor is another big part of the Parish Council’s consensus to discontinue the Festa. “It takes an army of volunteers for an entire week to set up and prepare. We don’t have enough people to do that anymore, and the people who do it year after year are getting older. It takes a lot of physical labor to set up and take down.”
So a decision was made to pursue new ways to bring parishioners together, raise funds and “invite other people to join us,” says Father Sal. The Spring Gala will be followed by a more informal Parish Picnic on the church grounds in late July, and negotiations are underway to bring in Murder Café for some murder-mystery dinner theater in the autumn. “We’re coming up with new ideas of what we can do going forward. It has to build community, and it has to be fun.”
While pointing out that “Forty years ago, real Italian food was more exotic” than it is today, the priest acknowledges that some Paltzonians will miss the annual Festa — especially the huge selection of cannoli and other sweet treats brought in from La Deliziosa Pastry Shoppe in Poughkeepsie. “The Italian pastries were always a huge hit,” he says. “But we can do that any time of year.” Plans are in the works for a preorder-and-pick-up pastry sale, probably sometime in July.
Immigration patterns in the US have changed considerably in the half-century since St. Joseph’s Catholic Church was founded. More established immigrant groups, such as Italian-Americans, are no longer finding their identity in small “enclaves” revolving around a particular religious congregation. “The Church’s role has changed a lot,” observes Father Sal. “We need to keep the people in the pews engaged, but also reach out to the people on the margins. We don’t want to take our people for granted…. A life of faith implies a life in a community of faith. We’re in this together.”