BY TOMMY MARMOLEJO
Some area churches are attempting to hold their annual picnics this year since COVID restrictions are lifting, but many events will be held for fewer days or have only some of the features we have come to expect.
At Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Duryea, the church picnic will return Friday, July 9, and Saturday, July 10, with the event being held only two days instead of three.
“We did not expect COVID protocols to start fading away quite so quickly, so we don’t have much time to tool up for the picnic,” said David Tighe, church manager. “We are okay with it. We are happy to do whatever our volunteers are happy and willing to provide.”
Last year, the parish held a takeout dinner in place of the picnic, which couldn’t make up for the lost revenue of a full picnic.
“It was a hit, but we make do,” said Tighe.
This year’s picnic will include cash raffles, bingo, basket giveaways, games, food and vendors. Live entertainment also will be featured on Friday by The Impastas and on Saturday by The John Stevens Polka Band. One feature of the annual picnic that won’t be held this year is the popular flea market. Organizers simply didn’t have time to collect and sort through items for the sale once COVID regulations began to be lifted.
Another change for this year’s picnic is the location, which will be moved to the other end of Stephenson Street, utilizing the Holy Rosary playground and rear parking lots.
“It is our first time back at the Holy Rosary site, so keeping in mind we’re coming out of a pandemic, we are going to try to be cautious of people’s concerns,” Tighe said.
Church leaders have to take into account the benefit of having these events — both financial necessity and community outreach — weighed against safety concerns.
“While these gatherings can be wonderful community-building opportunities, it is important that these functions be planned and carried out safely. Flexibility should be built into any planning process, given the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 virus,” the Rev. Thomas Petro, pastor, of Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Dupont, said in the parish bulletin on May 23, announcing plans for this year’s picnic. Petro could not be reached for additional comment.
Like Nativity of Our Lord, Sacred Heart also is limiting the number of days its picnic will be held this year. The normally three-day picnic will be held for only one day, on Saturday, July 31, on the church grounds in Dupont.
The 74th annual parish picnic at Sacred Heart will still feature homemade foods, theme baskets and games of chance.
The Parish of St. Barbara in Exeter will forgo its annual picnic all together this year. Instead, the church will have a flea market later in July and expects to have a cash bingo in August. The flea market is to run for a couple of days, with potato pancakes and potentially other foods available. Details are still being planned.
“We have not even gotten together yet because of COVID,” said the Rev. Michael E. Finn, pastor. “Everything is up in the air right now.”
During last year’s shutdown, the Parish of St. Barbara, like other churches and community groups, had to cancel its big events, affecting the church financially.
“The people were very generous during that time of year, knowing that they were not able to do anything. Financially we were able to make it through,” said Finn.
St. Joseph Marello Parish in Pittston also will skip its picnic once again this year due to sudden changes in COVID restrictions.
The Rev. Joseph Elston, pastor, explained there wasn’t time to plan for such a large event like a picnic.
“It takes a long time. We usually start in March, and in March, things were still pretty awful,” he said.
While having another major event canceled for St. Joseph Marello Parish is a financial hit, church donations have kept the church afloat.
“We sent out a letter saying we can’t have a picnic so here’s a cash raffle, send this back, and they were extremely generous,” Elston said.
Plans are in the works for St. Joseph Marello and St. John the Evangelist Church to have some kind of welcome back weekend in the middle of August.
In the meantime, St. John’s is having a gift card raffle and St. Joseph Marello is hoping to have an October Fest in early October and the annual Harvest Festival in November. An announcement on St. John’s picnic, normally held later in August, hasn’t yet been made.
Queen of the Apostles Parish in Avoca moved from a three-day picnic to a one-day pig roast years ago and is now celebrating Christmas in July with Christmas in July lottery tickets being sold in place of the pig roast, which has been cancelled due to COVID concerns. Prizes will be awarded beginning July 1 by matching the lottery’s Pick 3 daily numbers. Daily prizes will be $75, and $250 will be awarded every Sunday. Tickets can be purchased by calling the parish office at 570-457-3412.
According to Kathleen Franceschelli, administrative assistant for the parish, the Christmas in July lottery is the only event to replace the annual pig roast. Due to short notice of COVID restrictions being lifted, not enough time was available to prepare for the purchase of the pig and to sell tickets to the public.
“Usually, it was in the middle of July, and it was our biggest money maker. We had to cancel that and our chicken dinner, which is normally held in March. So far, this is the only thing we were able to come up with,” Franceschelli said of the lottery ticket sale.
Canceling one of its most significant events of the year hurts the church financially.
“We lost all our major fundraisers,” she said. “We are trying to pay off a debt … It took a major impact,” Franceschelli said.
Currently, parishioners are turning in their church offering envelopes to keep things running, but the parish has lost the financial cushion the various fundraisers — especially the pig roast — provide.
“We had money in the bank prior to COVID, but we took a PPP loan that they offered to keep everything going. Slowly everything is coming back. Hopefully, we’ll be able to start different events in the fall,” Franceschelli said.