The Festival of Friendship has been held at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Lower Burrell for decades, but the pandemic has moved the tradition online in the past two years.
On Friday and Saturday, the two-day festival returned in person with live music, food trucks, games, bingo, a basket auction and kiddie rides.
Organizers say it drew the biggest crowds they’ve seen in some time, made up of parishioners and members of the Lower Burrell community.
Reverend Ken Zaccagnini said people have really reacted to the festival’s return as an in-person event. He said a lot of people saw each other for the first time in years because of the festival.
“There is absolutely no substitute. We need that social interaction,” Zaccagnini said. “Friday the crowd came and they didn’t leave. probably thought so.
Crowds enjoyed the basket auction on Saturday, with hundreds of people roaming the aisles to drop raffle tickets into corresponding baskets. The baskets were donated by members of the community. IHE items ranged from homemade produce to grocery gift cards to a full-size kayak.
Zaccagnini donated two 5-gallon gas cans with $150 cash each, inspired by high gas prices this summer.
Susan Decroo of Lower Burrell volunteers at St. Margaret Mary Parish; she hoped to win the grocery store gift cards and various other items. She said she was happy that the Friendship Festival was back in person.
“It’s great to get it back in person,” Decroo said. “There are people I haven’t seen in years.”
Festival coordinator Ariel Schroeder said proceeds from the raffle and festival will go to the church. She said the size and scope of this year’s festival would not have been possible without the volunteers.
Caitlin and Mike Tobin have been parishioners since 2018. It was the first year they were able to attend and they were happy with the low prices for rides and games for their son, Michael.
“It’s a super cool festival,” Caitlin said.
Marucci Brothers supplied the children’s train and teacup rides, which were made from the local company’s store in Wilmerding.
The food trucks were a new addition to the festival and were popular with the crowds.
Joe Malaspina brought his Chef Joe’s Kitchen food cart to the event and he organized the other six trucks that dotted the parking lot at St. Margaret Mary Parish.
Malaspina sold gourmet hot dogs, hot sausage sandwiches, and barbecued pulled chicken with her secret sauce.
Other trucks available included Hot Ash pizza from Vandergrift, Kona Ice from Monroeville, DJ’s Cheesesteaks from Pittsburgh, funnel cakes and fresh-cut fries from the New Kensington Volunteer Fire Company.
Malaspina said he consumed 450 pounds of potatoes on Friday and expects to consume between 600 and 700 pounds on Saturday. He said the food trucks helped make the festival popular this year, and attendees really responded to being back, under a big tent in the parking lot, chatting with friends and neighbors.
“We needed something like that to pull us together,” Malaspina said.