Saint Rocco’s feast builds on years of tradition and lots of food

Lucille Johnson’s grandfather and uncle helped build St. Rocco’s Church in Glen Cove in 1937. The meatballs served at the Catholic Church’s annual feast of St. Rocco, which ends Sunday, are based on family members’ meatball recipes that have been passed down. for generations.

And Johnson, 86, of Glen Cove, has been volunteering at the party for years, helping prepare the homemade Italian specialties that thousands of Long Islanders and others line up each year.

“We made 140 eggplant platters and we did it in one day,” Johnson said of the eggplant parmesan and eggplant rollatini. “We all know what we are doing. We’ve been doing it for years.

Johnson is one of more than 200 volunteers running the event each day, said Maria Greco, 46, of Glen Cove, who helps oversee operations in the ‘pasta pavilion’ at a church hall. .

“Without all the volunteers and all the women cooking, we could never go on,” Greco said.

“These positions have been passed down from generation to generation,” said Reggie Spinello, one of the event coordinators and former mayor of Glen Cove. “It really is one of the most beautiful traditions of the holiday.”

The 46th annual event, which kicked off on Wednesday, also includes carnival rides, games and, in the streets near the church, stalls with decidedly un-Italian dishes like fried Oreos, as well as Italian specialties like freshly cut red and white peaches. wine.

Food preparation began more than three weeks ago, said Johnson, whose family roots, like those of many Glen Cove residents of Italian ancestry, are in Sturno, Italy, east of Naples. . Only 20 women and men prepare and cook the thousands of pounds of food, working like on an assembly line.

Some dishes are fully prepared the same day.

“We had 700 pounds of guts and we ran out of it” on Friday, Johnson said. “So we did it this morning.”

Tripe in red sauce with vegetables is a longtime favorite of some.

Arturo Gomes, the chef and former owner of an Italian-French restaurant in Glen Cove, sent someone to Brooklyn early Saturday morning to buy the tripe.

Some dishes are on the menu every day, Gomes said. Eggplant parmesan is usually the most popular dish, he said. Lasagna, baked clams, rice balls, and pasta with broccoli and sausage are other standards. There are also freshly cooked daily specials, like Saturday shrimp origanata and ribs and pasta.

Joséphine Capobianco, 85, emigrated from Sturno in 1959, has been a volunteer for 30 years.

“I like it because I like my church,” she said. “It’s the only way to make the church work. We built it and we don’t want to let it go.

The proceeds from the feast fund the operations of the church.

St. Rocco still has a Sunday mass in Italian, and although Capobianco is now fluent in English, she attends it every week.

“Those are your roots,” she said.

On Sundays, the party runs from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the parish grounds at 18 Third St. and surrounding streets. A traditional procession, with a statue of Saint Rocco carried through the neighborhood near the church, begins immediately after the 10:30 a.m. mass, Spinello said. It usually lasts until around 2 p.m., stopping at the homes of sick people, he said.

Saint Rocco is a French saint who died in the 14th century and is considered a protector against epidemics and several diseases.

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