By Michael Morton
Already said to be the biggest event in the neighborhood, drawing 75,000 visitors annually, this year's extravaganza promised to be even bigger for its silver anniversary, organizers said this week.
“We improve on it each year, a constant change of new things,” said Jerry Holmes, who has been involved in the yearly planning of the festival since its inception and is the event's “special consultant” and “troubleshooter.”
The latest incarnation will feature a larger opening parade, special silver decorations and T-shirts for all volunteers commemorating the anniversary. As in previous celebrations, a private company, Newton and Sons, has been hired to provide the rides, and each night features either a German, Irish, Polish or Italian theme with appropriate music and cuisine.
The organizers said they pride themselves on only using live bands, with oompah bands on German nights and bagpipes on Irish nights as well as “restaurant-quality” food prepared on the Catholic church's grounds.
“We don't cater anything,” said George Berry, a physician's assistant at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park and a festival co-chairman with city firefighter Tony Cotroneo. Berry said the event would feature shepherd's pie cooked by newly arrived Irish immigrants, traditional sausages prepared by area German-American butchers and every type of Italian food imaginable.
“It's kind of out of control,” Berry said of the last cuisine.
The festival runs from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. during the week, closing at midnight on Friday and Saturday. Visitors can enter the fair grounds for free and listen to the bands, but must pay for the rides, games and food. As in the past, half the proceeds pay for expenses and the other half goes to help defray the costs of tuition at the church's school, which has 500 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The festival has raised $2.5 million in the last 25 years, Berry said, and now keeps tuition down by about $700 per pupil.
To run the complex operation the festival relies on about 600 volunteers, and many of them jammed into the church's gym Monday night to pick up their T-shirts and security passes.
“More and more people have volunteered and it's brought the community together,” Holmes said. He added that the event depended on support from neighbors, the 105th Police Precinct and the Queens Village Hollis Bellerose Volunteer Ambulance Corps.
The festival is “probably the largest parish-run festival in Queens,” Berry said, and it requires major planning. On Monday organizers were on track, with only the gambling tent left to be set up, he said
Berry takes a week-and-a-half vacation for the event, describing it as a labor of love and a full-time job. After the festival ends, he and other organizers will take several months off before beginning preparations anew.
Said Berry: “In September we start again.”
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.