Volunteers help bring festive atmosphere to Baldwin Borough's Spring-a-Rama
The sweet, fresh scent of the pastries sizzling in the fryer wafts through the air.
The sound of the man on the loud speaker, enticing people to buy that “50/50 raffle ticket,” or to come play bingo in the cafeteria, overpowers the laughter of children and chatter of the crowds of teenagers.
Lines wrap around the parking lot for a ride on the towering Ferris wheel, a chance to win a basket prize or those popular homemade doughnuts.
It's Spring-a-Rama time at St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish in Baldwin Borough, and crowds from across the South Hills come out to show support for the largest annual fundraiser for St. Elizabeth Elementary School.
“It's a great community event,” said Chris DiCarlo, 49, of Jefferson Hills, who chairs the event with his wife, Patty, 47.
The annual festival, held each night this week through Saturday from 7 to 10:30 p.m. in the parish parking lot, 1 Grove Place, has brought in a profit of more than $90,000 for the school each of the last several years, the DiCarlos said. Last year, the festival netted $96,000 for the school.
Activities include carnival rides and games, the white elephant sale, dinners, food booths and bingo. The Big Money Raffle offers a chance to win $1,000 each week night and $5,000 on Saturday evening. e_SNbS
But the festival wouldn't be possible without the more than 200 volunteers who run the 29 booths.
Shortly after Easter each year, the parish puts out a call for volunteers for the festival. That brings in between 20 and 30 new people each year, the DiCarlos said.
Many of the volunteers, though, have been at it from the beginning, or at least have volunteered for several years.
The DiCarlos are only the second couple to run Spring-a-Rama in its 36-year history. They took over seven years ago from longtime chairs Bob and Gerry Karcher of Pleasant Hills.
Their job is organizing the leaders of each booth, many of which are parish organizations.
“When decisions need to be made, we make the decisions,” Chris said.
That was tough with the first couple of hundred questions, because each answer could affect the success of the festival, Chris said. But, after a year or two, the answers came quickly and easily.
For everything, there's a strategy, and, by now, they have selecting prizes down to a science.
“We try to find ones that are ‘in,'” Chris DiCarlo said.
They ask their daughter, Gina, for advice. If Gina can't make it to help pick out the prizes that the children might best like, the DiCarlos will test her pictures to see if the stuffed animals, plastic balls, footballs, basketballs or those pesky “light-up things” are a keep or hide away.
“She's our barometer,” Chris said.
Gina was the reason that the DiCarlos joined St. Elizabeth parish nearly nine years ago. She attended St. Elizabeth Elementary School and her parents switched parishes from a church in Clairton so that they could be involved at her school.
The DiCarlos took over as chairs of the Spring-a-Rama as a way to get to know people, they said.
“It's fellowship,” Patty DiCarlo said.
And even as Gina has moved on from St. Elizabeth and now is a freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School, the couple still finds a love for their involvement, they said. They've gotten to know many people and made many friends in the process.
That's part of what volunteering at Spring-a-Rama is about.
Karen Michaux, of West Mifflin, and Sandy Zera, of Whitehall, had never met before becoming co-chairs of the basket auction booth three years ago.
Now, the two meet frequently for lunch and finish each other's sentences.
“This will be a lasting friendship,” Zera said.
“We're the dearest of friends,” Michaux said.
The festival also is a way to connect with people that you maybe haven't seen in a year, Michaux said.
“This is a big social outing in the South Hills,” she said.
Yet, while they talk, many of the people at the festival work, cutting the potatoes to make fresh French fries or selling baked goods.
Most of the volunteers are from the parish, but not all are, the DiCarlos said. Each booth leaders seeks help from anyone they know.
The rides, provided by Reinhart Amusement Inc., also are run by a South Hills family.
While all of the help is appreciated, the biggest blessing for the event has come from up above for the last six years, Chris DiCarlo said.
“Thirty-six days of no rain. That's the miracle. We always say that Father Dale (DeNinno) has a direct line to the big guy,” Chris DiCarlo said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.