SCRANTON — As the heat picked up, so did the numbers of people arriving on the campus of Marywood University Sunday for the final day of St. Joseph’s Center Festival.
But the threat of thunderstorms didn’t worry Sister Maryalice Jacquinot, president of the center. The festival, which is in its 53rd year, and is billed as “the biggest backyard picnic in Northeastern Pennsylvania” is held outdoors, rain or shine.
According to its website, the center serves individuals diagnosed with Intellectual Disability or a developmental delay, pregnant women, young families, couples hoping to adopt, and people who require outpatient therapy.
Although a formal count has never been taken, Jacquinot estimates that roughly 1,500 to 2,000 attend the festival each day. “People feel very committed to our work,” said Jacquinot.
“Even when the weather isn’t the best, people come. They budget for it and even plan their vacations around it.”
The festival, which is hosted by St. Joseph’s Auxiliary, also plays host to WNEP-TV’s Telethon on Friday and Saturday evenings during the festival weekend. The excitement came to a head Friday night when WNEP’s Joe Snedeker completed his annual “Go Joe” bike ride for the center and arrived at the festival grounds.
“The whole trip was 500 and he rode 135 miles just on Friday,” said Jacquinot. “He left the Liberty Bell at 7 a.m. and arrived here at 9:45 p.m.,” she said. “It was the most miles he ever did in one day,” she said adding that Snedeker’s 17-year-old son, Joey rode the last 35 miles with him.
The proceeds from the Telethon, combined with donations from Snedeker’s “Go Joe” ride topped $300,000. Jacquinot said the weekend festival usually brings in roughly $100,000 more. “We’re on track to reach that goal.”
Over 500 volunteer for the festival each year, staffing the 40 booths offering an array of goods, food, raffles and childrens’ games.
“The Auxiliary works all year long to raise money for this fundraiser,” said Jacquinot, adding that the funds go to support services and equipment for the residents of St. Joseph’s as well as the center’s maternity and family services.
Each year two co-presidents are chosen to head up the Auxiliary and the festival, said Lisa Rigau, who is this year’s co-president, along with Julie Williams. “Most of the volunteers ask to come back each year,” said Rigau. “Their stories are amazing,” she said. “Many of them have been volunteering since they were kids. It’s a real labor of love.”
Lisa Malos of Dunmore is an example of one of those amazing stories. She was born in April of 1962 at St. Joseph’s Center. “My birth mother came (to St. Joseph’s) with the absolute intention of giving me up for adoption,” said Malos, 52. On July 22, my new parents came to pick me up.”
Malos grew up in a happy home with three younger siblings. During her adolescent and teenage years, Malos would volunteer with her mother at the festival. She is happily married with four grown children and a grandchild.
As she was unpacked books and games in the book booth, which she has overseen for the last several years, Malos said she’s honored to be have been chosen next year’s co-president. “Especially for what this place means to me,” she said.
“These beautiful souls have no voice,” she said of the medically fragile people with intellectual disabilities that are residents of St. Joseph’s.
“They (staff and volunteers of St. Joseph’s) honor life in such an incredible way, it’s hard not to be involved. They love these children so much, they can’t help but live and thrive,” she said. “They live life to adulthood, and they live well.”