Every summer, Pelham Bay residents wait with anticipation for the traditional St. Theresa’s feast. “I look forward to this. Everyone looks forward to this,” said Pelham Bay resident and zeppole
stand vendor, Adele Paturzo, about the St. Theresa’s feast. Zeppoles, which are traditionally served pastries at the feast, are an example of the long standing tradition held every year by the church and its feast.
The St. Theresa’s feast, which has been celebrated for the past 16 years, added one more year to its run as the 17th annual celebration took place during the week of July 24th-July 28th. The feast, which is well known in Pelham Bay and in the surrounding area, brings the community and the church together for a celebration of tradition.
This year, the number of attendees visibly grew, as the church began to experience more diverse vendors and various other differences.
The feast began in 1996 as a celebration of the church’s contribution to the community of Pelham Bay. The church itself was established in 1925, when the area was heavily populated by Italian Catholic immigrants, according to the official website for the church. The area celebrates St. Theresa’s due to many of the Italian immigrants that came into the area in past years, and that came with respect toward the saint due to her selfless efforts to aid those without much. The immigrants in the area did not have many possessions, which is why they appreciated this saint to such a high degree. Since then, the feast has grown in popularity.
In fact, the feast was projected to bring in “tens of thousands” of New York City dwellers, according to Marie McCarrick who is the Director of Religious Education (DRE) for the church.
“We’re thinking that many. It’s an estimate, but that’s how it was last year,” said Ms. McCarrick.
The turnout of the feast did not deviate from Ms. McCarrick’s estimation, as hordes of people came in and out of the feast with both food, prizes, and various other items being either given away or sold at the celebration.
The feast has had an impact on the community of Pelham Bay. Businesses participate in the corporate sponsorship program that was developed by the parish, which allows local business owners to donate to the feast in exchange for advertising and recognition as official sponsor of the feast. This donation becomes tax-deductible, making it very lucrative to owners to support the community gathering, once again according to the church’s official website.
Some residents who are not business owners run other booths at the feast. Volunteers at the church serve various beverages like pina coladas, while live shows are presented by the organization by the name of Bronx Underground, which provides free entertainment on a monthly basis for teens and adolescents in another church, the First Lutheran Church. Food vendors also provide typical fair treats such as funnel cakes and zeppoles.
“This is actually my mother’s stand. I took it over for her,” said longtime Pelham Bay resident Paturzo about her zeppole stand.
Paturzo has been a resident of the area for 41 years. She took over her mother’s zeppole stand five years ago and has been at the feast for all of its 17 years. Although she says she has seen all that the feast has to offer in terms of entertainment and food, she still looks forward to the changes happening within it due to the increasing diversity of the Pelham Bay area.
“I look forward to new food vendors. Pelham Bay is a very diverse neighborhood and you’ve been starting to see more Spanish vendors. I love it,” The various Spanish vendors in the feast, which range from Mexican to Puerto Rican, are run by people who have moved into the area recently and are becoming a part of the community through the event.
According to Paturzo, the feast has grown in size, as its location has been changed in the past.
“We used to be in the school yard of the church, selling food. Now we have the whole block, it’s great,” she said.
When asked to describe what the feast meant to her, Paturzo replied, “five days of food, rides, games. Community and church come together, it’s a great celebration.”
Members of the community agree with Paturzo – including those who are not vendors but just come to enjoy the festivities.
“I love the food. All around I think that’s the best part,” said George Linz, who has been living in Pelham Bay and Throggs Neck for the past 20 years. Linz believes that the feast is just a great “get-together” and that it lets everyone “relax and enjoy each other’s company.”
“I don’t think there are any downsides. Maybe the traffic?” he jokingly questioned as he looked around the festivities. The feast closes down a few roads that surround St. Theresa Avenue, but Linz says it’s “worth the sacrifice.”
“Oh yeah, everyone comes anyway so it’s not really an issue,” Linz said in reference to the traffic and the attendance at the feast.
“Community and food. It’s all about that,” he added. Community is an enforced ideal of this feast, and the food and entertainment offered by the church is just added-on incentive for the inevitable.