Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Schenectady’s festa takes place July 13-15. Learn more at http://mountcarmelschdy.com or call (518) 393-4109.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Schenectady’s festa takes place July 13-15. Learn more at http://mountcarmelschdy.com or call (518) 393-4109.

For the past few weeks, Anne-Marie Forth has been consistently thinking about two things: Italian sauces and eggplant parmesan.

“I have 60 pans of eggplant in the freezer right now, [along with] my sauce,” Mrs. Forth explained.

In early May, the parishioner at Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Schenectady went to her parish’s kitchen and spent several days making the sauce for her eggplant parm. On June 7, she’s going back with a team of volunteers to cook eight bushels of peppers and 200 pounds of onions and then freeze those.

All of this is in preparation for OLMC’s annual three-day Italian festa. Mrs. Forth has been volunteering for the festa close to 60 years. Each year, hundreds of parish volunteers spend countless hours helping to prepare for the festa, the parish’s biggest event of the year.

Mrs. Forth remembers one year when Rev. Robert Hohenstein, pastor emeritus of OLMC, noted that “it takes a year to get ready for three days” of the festa.

Year of planning

Father Hohenstein couldn’t be more correct. This year’s festa takes place July 13-15, but volunteers have been preparing for the event since just weeks after last year’s festa ended.

“After the festa, we meet with the volunteers and assess what worked and what didn’t work,” said Jackie Oliveira, co-chair of the festa committee. By August 2017, Mrs. Oliveira and her team were already planning for this year’s festa.

Each year, the committee organizes carnival games, children’s rides, live music and a garage sale.

A large amount of the preparation goes into making food. The festa offers a variety of Italian dishes: calzones, baked goods, meatballs, Italian ice and spaghetti.

“We’re famous for the food,” Mrs. Forth told The Evangelist.

Mrs. Oliveira said OLMC typically nets $40,000 to $50,000 from the festa. The outcome is really determined by the weather, but, rain or shine, the festa will happen.

Moving parts

Mrs. Oliveira heads the festa along with Mari-Anne Cristello and Marlene Mauriello. The three women alternate years as chair, but all help oversee the festa’s many moving parts.

Each Italian dish gets its own booth, for example, and each food booth is chaired by a lead volunteer. Mrs. Oliveira helps coordinate when each booth gets time to use the parish kitchen to cook their designated food item. There are so many booths and people involved that, sometimes, she doesn’t know the status of each booth.

Mrs. Forth said that the parish center is currently “filled with freezers” to store all the food being prepared.

Ordering the carnival rides, setting up the tents and equipment and buying ingredients are also managed by volunteers.

Mrs. Mauriello and Mrs. Oliveira spoke at OLMC Masses recently, asking for volunteers for the festa. Volunteers can also help with the raffle, take food orders or help prepare food. Mrs. Oliveira said the parish typically gets “well over 100 volunteers” — and that “the more hands, the lighter the work.”

In early April, parishioners were asked to drop off donations of canned foods for the festa at the parish rectory. Mrs. Forth noted the generous response: Someone dropped off a 50-pound bag of flour, while another parishioner donated 10 cases of tomatoes.

For the rest of the ingredients, the chairperson in charge of buying the ingredients typically shops at BJs Wholesale Club, Restaurant Depot or Price Chopper.

Do us proud

Mrs. Forth said she’s chaired her booth for 15 years, having inherited the role from her godmother. She sells eggplant parm and sausage-and-pepper sandwiches. With this much experience, she has an idea of when she needs to start cooking which foods and how much of each ingredient she needs.

“It is mind-blowing,” said Mrs. Forth. “I tend to worry ahead of time, [thinking], ‘How can I get this done faster?’ But it gets done.”

Mrs. Oliveira has been a part of the festa since she was a teenager. She remembers helping with the cotton candy and watching her mother working in the sausage-and-peppers booth.

“It’s a great deal of work and time, but it’s so rewarding,” she said.

Mrs. Oliveira’s brother lives in Maryland, but makes time to come up each year for the festa. She said people from not just Schenectady, but across the Capital District attend the event.

“It makes me feel very proud, very proud of our heritage,” said Mrs. Forth. “People show up and say, ‘I wouldn’t miss this for the world.’”