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St. Jude Italian Festival's a Labor of Love for its Volunteers

The St. Jude Parish Italian Festival will go from Aug. 21-24.

Cooks man the grills at last year's festival.
Cooks man the grills at last year's festival.
When the annual St. Jude Parish Italian Festival gets underway next Wednesday, Dolores Palmisano will prepare orders in a fryer while overseeing operations under the food tent. Her husband, Joe, will be grilling sausages as he's done during each of the festival's 23 years.

The men of the Knights of Columbus have always been in charge of grilling hot dogs, burgers and the sausages that make the sausage & peppers the festival is famous for.

Peter Lucia, who has been involved with planning the event since it began and is in his 22nd year as chairman, looks forward to seeing these familiar faces every summer.

"It's good work. It's rewarding," Lucia said during an interview at the Dunkin Donuts at 695 Main Street last week. "The volunteers who have been involved have probably been involved as long as I have. They are the greatest group of volunteers as far as being there."

The festival still has its share of younger volunteers and new people come forward to help every year, but Lucia said every station has strong veteran leadership.

For instance, John Mercaldo has been in charge of the pastry area for over a decade. Donnie Gallant and Kevin Donovan have run the pizza frete booth for "probably 15 years, if not longer", according to Lucia.

"People look forward to working because it's so much fun and we've made friendships," Lucia said. "It's just a part of being at St. Jude's. There's a lot of dedicated people who go there. I feel blessed and honored."

The Italian Festival's original founders — Bob Tranzillo, Dom Arribas and Sonny Tortora — still volunteer. Lucia also credits Msgr. John Sabia, St. Jude Church's pastor of nearly 35 years, for the festival's long running success.

"We're very lucky," he said. "Our monsignor let's us do what we do best."  

Fresh Food Every Day

Benny DiMarco of Luigi's Pastry Shop & Cafe in Trumbull has always provided sweet desserts and Jennie's Pizzeria, 380 Monroe Turnpike, prepares pizza, eggplant and chicken parmesan, cavatellis, ziti, meatballs and salads.

Jennie's is owned by brothers Al and Rich DeSimone.

"Al is a parishioner," Lucia said. "He brings us steam tables. He calls Rich to tell him what he needs and comes and gets it. Nothing is sitting for any longer than a half hour. Everything is gone by the end of the night or we sell off the leftovers. Everything is cooked fresh the next day."

Lucia says this includes the baked goods.

"We try to order what we need that day and bring in food fresh," he said.

Lucia said there will be some new pastries and that Italian chicken sausage will be added to the lunch and dinner menus for those wanting a healthier alternative to the traditional pork.

"We're trying to keep the prices down," he said of food costs. "It's difficult because prices go up."

Music, Games and Rides

The entertainment at St. Jude's Italian Festival is as consistent as the food.

"We've had the same entertainment for so many years, because people like it," Lucia said.

For the older crowd, Angie Rubino plays Italian music and deejay Jim Goldstein, owner of JMG, plays Frank Sinatra songs earlier in the day before switching over to songs appealing to younger music fans at night.

Richard Stewart of Stewart Amusements has always provided the rides that excite the children and teenagers.   

When asked what he enjoys most about the festival, Lucia talks about organizing it and of the people he sees.

"It's hard work for everybody, but we look forward to it every year," he said. "The people are so friendly. The youth come and are well behaved. I look forward to seeing people I may see once a year at the festival."

Interested in volunteering? Send an email to parishoffice@saintjudechurch.net. The Italian Festival is the church's biggest fundraiser. Proceeds are used for capital projects around St. Jude's Monroe Turnpike campus.

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