From the start, the weather was a problem. The Immaculate Conception Church’s annual fundraising feast, scheduled for four days, was abbreviated to three when Thursday, Sept. 10 was rained out. Held in Buchmuller Park, the opening night was supposed to coincide with the town’s annual Restaurant Night (see related story), held inside the ice rink in the park.
“We thought it would be a nice thing because we’d have the feast here and when people got done with Restaurant Night they’d spill out into the park,” said Councilman Gary Jeffas, one of the coordinators of the event. Instead the rides and games and food stands sat dark and deserted until Friday night, when festivities kicked off about 6 p.m.
Among the most popular attractions was a ride that spun people upside down in cages high in the air. “You hold on to it and it seems like you’re in space,” said a breathless Briana Cruz after stepping out of the cage.
“I thought I was going to fall out of the damn seat,” said her friend, Dana Zitzman. “Never again. I felt like I was going to die.”
“I went on it twice,” said Victoria D’Avanzo, 13, attending with three younger friends. “The first time I was screaming my head off. The second time I was on Snapchat.” She proudly showed off the video she posted from inside the cage of the world spinning around.
“I’m a chocolate connoisseur and these cupcakes are great.” –John Caso
“We’ve been together since like the womb,” said Blanco. “She was born 20 days after me.” And Mejia? “Carlos saw me and her on Snapchat and said, ‘Jasmine’s going? I gotta go. She’s just so cool.’”
Mejia, busy with his phone, could barely be bothered to respond.
Eddie Acosta came from North Bergen with his two young kids, his wife, and her cousin. “We went to CVS and saw the lights and I said, ‘Let’s go check this out,’ ” he said. “We’re in Secaucus a lot. It’s a great town. North Bergen doesn’t have as much.”
“We were just on the Ferris Wheel,” said longtime Secaucus resident Tony Miele, attending with his wife, Marie. Earlier in the night they attended the annual wine tasting event at the swim club. “And then I went to the football game for half time. Then I came here. All in Secaucus. It’s almost like Manhattan.”
“The town used to be so small you really didn’t have anything,” he continued. “You had no entertainment. We used to go into the swamps and get muskrats and all kinds of weird stuff. We had nothing like they have now, the pool, none of this. We used to play Little League on Fifth Street. They opened Buchmuller Park in ’64. It was state of the art. We opened it up playing baseball. But look at it now, the whole area. It’s a big difference. A big change.”
A volunteer-run fundraiser
The annual ICC Feast is a fundraiser for the church, run by volunteers from the parish. Town residents manned the booths and operated the games of chance. Members of the youth group painted kids’ faces and applied temporary tattoos.
One food stand sold Filipino delicacies on Friday and Saturday while another was busy cranking out burgers, dogs, sausages and meatballs all weekend. “We’re from the Knights of Columbus,” said Walt Pinkman, manning the grill with Sal Manente. “The Knights do a lot of volunteering, for the community, for the church, for handicapped people. It’s a good feeling.”
“I’m a chocolate connoisseur and these cupcakes are great,” said John Caso, a town resident for 30 years, attending with his wife, Marisa. “And they’re only 50 cents.”
So popular were the homemade cupcakes that they sold out early. “Everything was donated,” said Eileen Daley, vice president of the Rotary Society, working at the baked goods booth with Rotary President Debbie Santoro. “Some of them were home-baked, some store-bought. The parishioners are great. Everybody comes out. We sold a lot of coffee, too.”
A couple of food trucks joined the festivities, paying a flat fee to participate. “We work in this town,” said small business owner Doralys Gonzalez, operator of the Mr. Softee truck with her husband Sergio. “Secaucus, Little Ferry, and Moonachie.”
Daniel Casillas, 8, came to the feast straight from the football game on Friday night and was among the many kids to make a beeline for the truck. “We love the ice cream,” said his mom. “Mr. Softee’s my favorite. I have him on speed-dial on my phone because I always want to know where he is.”
An innovative pastor
Rain took its toll again on Saturday, chasing away patrons in the afternoon, and the event closed early at 10 p.m. instead of 11. Then on Sunday the precipitation held off for the morning festivities. “The mass was about 400 people,” said Fr. Victor Kennedy. Mass at the church was followed by a procession through town to the park, where a statue of Mary was deposited under a tree, surrounded by flowers and candles.
“The rain was tough but we needed the rain, too,” said the jovial and perpetually positive Kennedy. “I’m pleased. They’re having fun, we’re making some money, I can pay some bills.”
The feast was moved to Buchmuller Park last year after being held near Walmart for three years. “Over by Walmart we make decent money on the rides but there are no parishioners,” said Jeffas. “Father Vic wants the town to be involved. If we go over there it may be a money maker but it’s not a community event.”
“Father Vic’s a very innovative pastor,” said Parish Secretary Martha McGuire. “Our previous pastor, Father Joe, was a great guy, too, but when he passed away Vic came in and it was like night and day. We went from a guy who’s into classical music, very quiet and reserved, to this great big, gregarious, Puerto-Rican Irishman, of all things. He’s just so full of life. His mind is rapid-fire. Hand-clapping, back-slapping, baby-kissing. He should run for president. He’s wonderful, a very good spiritual provider.”
Kennedy instituted the candle exchange, in which parishioners buy a candle and leave it at the statue with their prayer intentions.
“And then somebody else takes my candle,” explained McGuire. “I don’t take my own back. Somebody else takes my candle and prays for my intentions and I get a candle and I take it home and light it for the other person’s prayers. It’s what our church is about. It’s a prayerful community. We pray for each other all the time. It’s a nice feeling.”
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.