CARBONDALE – “Attending the parish’s annual picnic is something I’ve done since I was a kid,” recalled Pat Cassero. “I was born and raised in Carbondale and remember coming here with my grandfather every summer, enjoying great food and having a lot of fun with my friends and family.”
This year, Cassero served as co-coordinator of the annual fundraising feast for Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (OLMC) on Fallbrook Street, which was held on the church’s nearby school grounds for three evenings July 12-14. “Despite being discontinued for a while, our three-day annual picnic has really been a strong tradition for more than 40 years,” Cassero said. “It’s a great time that brings together not just our faithful parishioners but the entire community. Every year, Carbondale and much of the surrounding area come out in strong support of our event.”
While OLMC’s annual fundraiser is indeed likened to a grand summer picnic, it is termed a ‘feast’ because “we serve a LOT of food,” added Josefa Dombrosky who co-chaired this year’s event with Cassero. “Much of our congregation is of Italian heritage, so good hearty Italian favorites are standard fare every year. From our own homemade pasta sauces with eggplant parmigiana, sausage, and meatballs, to many other favorites like pierogis and potato pancakes, pizza, porketta, soppressata, and sausage with peppers, along with delicious desserts and kid-favorites like popcorn and candy apples. We also had a beer wagon and wine. Everything is just so, so good, and the food seems never-ending!”
With so much food alone, planning such a feast-filled event takes a great deal of time and energy. “When considering the quantities of different food items and the various chairs, tables, building materials, and other equipment needed, we have to start planning early in the year to ensure a successful event,” Cassero noted. “It also takes a lot of staff to run this, including captains to oversee each of the food stands, along with dozens of volunteers who help cook for days on end and who serve our guests over the three days. But in addition to the countless congregants of all ages who participate, we’re also very blessed with the great help and generosity offered by various community businesses.”
In addition to the food, OLMC’s event featured live music each evening, including opening-night oldies by The Wannabee’s, pop tunes by Blue London on Friday, and Jim Cerminaro closed the event with Italian classics and other standards. And while there were also dozens of raffled gift baskets and many on-site games themed specifically for children with fun prizes, Friday night fireworks were a highlight enjoyed by everyone.
But are the long months of work and planning, countless hours and energy spent worth the extensive effort for this nearly 800-member parish? “DEFINITELY YES!” resounded the co-chairs.
“Our parish asked for its congregants to step forward to help with the event, and so many of them did just that to help bring everything together,” noted Cassero. “Without their help and teamwork, the event wouldn’t be possible.”
“We want to keep our church open for years and generations to come. In good year, we take in about $60-70k annually,” Dombrosky said proudly. “And while the feast is a much-needed fundraiser to help keep our church going, we absolutely love what we’re doing here.”
The culmination of this year’s event was Sunday’s procession of the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Following the parish’s 10:00am Mass led by its own Fr. Jim Price, the Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, Bishop of Scranton, was an honored guest who led the procession throughout the West Side of his own home town.
After saying prayers at the stand of the parish’s statue of the Blessed Mother, Bishop Bambera, added, “Bless these people of God on their journey through life.” Moments later, the Bishop’s smiling presence further brightened the day’s activities as he led dozens of followers throughout the local parish’s neighborhood, including a stop at the nearby Carbondale Nursing Home. Along the way, he laughed with all who shared the walk and waved to those who watched from their doorways. During the nearly three-hour procession beneath Sunday’s sunny skies, music played loudly from a parading truck and congregants cheered happily, and light refreshments were enjoyed at several street-side stops. Upon returning to OLMC, Bishop Bambera closed the day with a warm and prayerful benediction to OLMC’s faithful.
“Sunday’s procession is our church’s most important part of this annual event,” said Cassero. “Coordinating the feast is a lot of work, and we really do have a lot of fun along the way. But Our Lady’s procession means the most to us.”