Lawn Fetes: A summertime tradition in western New York
Lawn fetes- there’s one almost every summer weekend at a church somewhere in western New York. These events differ somewhat from carnivals, county fairs, and festivals as that they are often a fund raiser for that particular church, as well as a social event or “fun raiser” for the entire community. And for the most part, these lawn fetes are at Catholic churches. Why, you might ask? In my opinion, two reasons. First, most Catholic churches have larger congregations than other faiths, so they have the manpower to run a big event and second, western New York has a large Catholic population, so naturally there are a lot of vibrant Catholic churches in the area.
Now, just because a lawn fete or church picnic is a social event for that community doesn’t mean that they don’t welcome outsiders. In fact they, encourage others to come as these people are “new money” in terms of fundraising. In this article I will highlight just a portion of the lawn fetes being held this summer. Included are some of my personal favorites, as well as some of the larger, well-known events. You’ll note a common theme: there’s food, games, kids activities, raffles, and of course, a beer tent.
St. Gregory the Great 16th Annual Great Race, Friday June 17 at 7pm, 200 St. Gregory Court (right next to MillardFillmoreSuburbanHospital) Williamsville, 716-688-5678, www.stgregs.org
Technically, this is not a lawn fete or picnic; however, it is often referred to as the kick-off of the summer season in the northtowns, so it deserves a mention. It’s also my parish, so I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it. This event, more of a “fun raiser” than a fund raiser, includes a 5K race, which generally attracts 1,200+ runners and walkers. Afterwards, an open-air party is held in the church parking lot, with several thousand people attending. Music is provided by Nik and the Nice Guys and there are inflatable slides and bounce houses for the kids. Food, pop, beer, and wine are available for a nominal cost.
St. Mary’s 162nd annual Picnic, Sunday July 24, 11am-8pm, 6919 Transit Road , Swormville, 716-688-9380, www.stmaryswormville.org
This is probably one of the oldest picnics in the area; the first one was held back in 1849! I have personally attended this picnic for over 50 years. Festivities actually begin the night before, with Mass under the tent at 6pm, followed by the preparation of vegetables and meat for their famous chicken-clam chowder. The chowder, which has been part of the picnic since the 1920’s, is cooked overnight in huge iron cauldrons. Starting at about 10am people begin lining up to buy containers of the chowder to take home; you can also buy it by the bowl to eat under the “chowder tent.” A chicken dinner is served, and they have the usual games, kiddie rides, raffles, and the requisite beer tent.
Annunciation Picnic, August 19, 20, 21, 7580 Clinton Street, Elma, 716-683-5254, www.annunciation.cc
This parish has had a picnic for at least 50 years. They have the usual games of chance, kiddie rides, and a variety of foods, including a fish fry on Friday, a chicken BBQ on Sunday, and homemade clam chowder. One of the unique events at this picnic is a Polka Mass at 11:30am on Sunday, featuring a polka band playing religious songs to a polka beat. And speaking of polkas, Sunday afternoon’s entertainment is the nationally-known polka band, Lenny Gomulka and the Chicago Push. I have fond memories of this picnic. Many years ago, my parents and I were going to visit my aunt in East Aurora and we stopped at this picnic on the way to her house. They had a puppy raffle and I won a puppy!
More fun lawn fetes
St. Leo’s Lawn Fete, August 6, 7, 8, 885 Sweet Home Road, Amherstwww.stleoslawnfete.com
Highlights of this event include the movie Shrek, shown under the stars (Aug. 7 at 9pm) and an appearance by the Buffalo Jills Cheerleaders (August 7 at 7pm). They also have live music, amusement rides, midway games, food concessions, and more.
Good Shepherd Church, July 31, 5442 Tonawanda Creek Road North , Pendleton, 716-625-8594, www.goodshepherd-staugustine.org
This popular northtown lawn fete includes games, a Chinese auction, and a chicken BBQ.
St. Christopher’s Summerfest 5K Run, August 6, 6:30pm, 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda, 716-692-2660, www.saintchris.org
This event features a 5K run on flat terrain near EllicottCreekPark which is certified by the USATF. Following the run, enjoy live music at Summerfest.
33rd Annual Hellenic Festival, June 3, 4, 5, Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, 146 West Utica, Buffalo, 716-882-7121, www.buffalogreekfest.org
This is not exactly a lawn fete, but it’s so unique it’s worth a mention. Enjoy Greek cuisine, music, dancing, and more. There will be imported Greek foods and gifts, as well as cultural exhibits and tours of the church.
Queen of Heaven Carnival, July 8, 9, 10, 839 Mill Road, WestSeneca, www.queenofheavencarnival.com
Billed as “Best in the Southtowns,” this carnival features live entertainment, fish, shrimp, and chicken dinners, a beer tent, drawings, bingo, gambling tent, and amusement rides.
Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Kick Off Fun Run and Walk, June 16 at 6pm, 3148 Abbott Road, Orchard Park, 716-824-2935, www.olshop.org This 5K race is followed by a post race party that includes music, food, and beverages.
St. John Vianney 11th Annual Kickoff Run, July 21 at 6:30pm, 2950 Southwestern Blvd., Orchard Park, 716-674-9232, www.saintjohnvianney.com, www.kickoffrun.com This 3 mile run kicks off the St. John Vianney Lawn Fete, which is July 21-24. After the race, a post race party is held under large tents, a plus if the weather is inclement. Last year over 600 runner and 100 walkers participated in the race. The lawn fete includes a cruise night, live entertainment, food, fireworks, and more. www.sjvlawnfete.com
Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Lawn Fete, July 29-31, 20 French Road, Depew, 716-684-6342, www.olbsdepew.org. This lawn fete features a giant midway, with rides and games, food, including a chicken dinner on Sunday, a gambling tent, and live entertainment in the beer tent.