Veteran volunteers keeping the festival flame burning bright

Above: Joe Furgol is one of the oldest volunteers at age 80. He’s been helping for about 20 years, especially in the food trailer. 



That’s a great grand prize if you bought a $20 Buona Fortuna ticket for the recent Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament Parish Festival.

But if you were around in 1948 and had 50 cents to spend on a raffle ticket at what was called the Mount Carmel Bazaar, you had a chance to win something really special — a car.

Yes, a car. A spanking, brand new 1949 Plymouth Deluxe four-door sedan. No, it didn’t have a moon roof, self-driving technology or air conditioning (unless you opened the windows), but it was a car.

It sold for $1,850 — about $23,580 in today’s money.

Five parishioners who volunteer at our festival year after year didn’t help at the 1949 bazaar, but they have been integral to our festivities for a very long time.

Terry Reale, Mario Scalzo, Joe Furgol, Joe Briggs and Joe Siniscarco have been mainstays before, during and after the festival for decades. They are among a number of others — such as John Jones, Bill Thibault and Carmen D’Ambro — who are dedicated workers who combined have volunteered for more than two centuries!

Why do they do it?

All agree it is love of our parish community and wanting it give something back.

Terry Reale

“As a lifelong parishioner, and with the festival being our main fundraiser, it just seemed like a no-brainer way to give back,” said Terry, a parishioner for all her 74 years. “It seemed only right to pay it forward and try to perpetuate it for our children and grandchildren. It just gives such a sense of satisfaction and pride in our parish community. It also allows us some special time with fellow parishioners that we might not otherwise see on a regular basis.”

Terry, who has been volunteering at the festival for more than 20 years, calls herself the “referee” of the pizza fritta operation. Prior to that, she worked in the food trailer.

“To be honest, I am kind of stepping back this year,” she said. “While I will still be working in pizza fritta, I’m passing the baton of ‘chair’ on to my son John, who was actually there before me — he and Mike Zasa were the ones who helped Rachel Sciortino and her crew. They were the brawn.”

Mario Scalzo is 75 and said he’s been volunteering at the festival for more than 55 years.

Mario Scalzo

“My parents were always involved and as I grew older, I wanted to continue the tradition. It also gave me an opportunity to be part of and serve my parish,” he said. “I believe it’s my responsibility to my church and parish community. I met so many new families and friends while having a great time. With God’s help, I will work the festival in some manner as long as I am able to.”

Joe Briggs is an immigrant from Blessed Sacrament Parish, where he worked at its festival for a number of years before volunteering at Mount Carmel / Blessed Sacrament when the churches merged in 2006.

Joe Briggs

“While I was at Blessed Sacrament, I was mostly a worker bee,” said Joe, 72. “The last few years, I was chairman of the beer booth. Here at Mount Carmel, I have done many different jobs, including being co-chairman of the food booth with my good friend Al Forte (who died unexpectedly in 2016). I also served as the overall festival chairman for three years. Since those years, I have continued to help out in many different ways.”

Joe welcomes the responsibility and the festivities.

“I enjoy seeing people that I may only see at festival time,” he said. “I also enjoy working with my fellow volunteers to help make our parish a successful and welcoming place. The festival helps to promote a feeling of community within our parish. People working together for the benefit of the parish.”

Joe Siniscarco

Joe Siniscarco is 69 and a lifelong parishioner. He has been volunteering at the event since he was a teenager.

“I volunteer because of my love and commitment to our parish,” Joe said. “With my good friend Mario Scalzo, we were the chairman of the food tent for 12 years. Since then, we continue to make the mushroom stew each year. We make approximately 80 gallons of stew each year.”

What satisfaction does he get from all the work?

“My biggest satisfaction from volunteering is the friendships I have made with other volunteers.”

Joe Furgol is one of the oldest volunteers at age 80. He’s been helping for about 20 years, especially in the food trailer. He said the work encompasses more than just three days in July.

“The festival starts in January for us planning,” Joe said. “It’s many hours before the festival begins to prepare and then the long hours at the festival.”

Why does he continue to do it year after year? 

“Loyalty,” he said. “I enjoy working with friends. (The festival) is a nice way to get together.”

 Does he ever want to say, “I served my time, now it’s up to someone else?” 

“Yes,” he admitted, “on 90-degree days.”

Despite their love of the parish and the festival, all agree it’s time for others to step up and take the reins.

“I will continue to volunteer for as long as I can, (but) I do feel that is important to recruit some new blood,” Joe Briggs said. “As I said, I am 72 years old, and that is probably the average age of most of our volunteers. We are getting old, and in order for the parish festival to continue to happen, it is important for some young blood to step up.”

Terry said recruiting younger people is vital to keep the parish and festival alive.

“Oh, I absolutely do,” Terry said. “How can we hope to keep it going if we don’t encourage the next generation to understand how it’s done? … I guess I’d just tell them, ‘Look, we all had to start somewhere It’s something you learn to love because you’re becoming part of a tradition, a history that’s preceded us for decades.’”

What would Mario Scalzo say to other parishioners to convince them to volunteer in the future? 

“I cannot stress the friends and great friendships that we have made over the years as well as the unbelievable great times,” he said. “If we are to survive as a parish, we must all take on a role, regardless of the size, and use our talents. At the end of the day, you will have a great feeling and lots of memories.”