By DENISE DICK
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
NILES -- For five days each July, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church becomes an Italian kitchen.
The 68th annual church festival started Wednesday and continues through Sunday.
About 250 people work throughout each day of the festival, cooking and serving cheese puffs, pizza, dough twists, meatball sandwiches, smelts, cavatelli and other treats.
A busy place: The kitchen and surrounding rooms in the church basement buzzed with food preparation Thursday morning. One room is set aside for dough making, another for mixing the insides for the spinach and potato pizzas. Still another for cheese puff creation and dough twisting.
"A lot of people ask us how we get the men in here working," said Billie Ferrick, church president. "It's their wives that get them here."
Ferrick went from room to room, ensuring food preparation proceeded smoothly. She pointed to cheese puffs, dough twists, sausage and pepper sandwiches and pizza as the most popular festival foods.
Connie Peel and Phil Remalia made the pizza dough, with Mike Kensek and Angie Martin cutting it into pieces, weighing it and passing it on to the rolling and filling group. Work starts about 5 a.m. and some people stay throughout the day.
A tradition: For some, it's a family tradition.
"We have a lot of extended families that come here from grandparents to parents and grandchildren," said Monsignor Robert Reidy of the church.
The festival draws people from surrounding areas.
"It's a love of the people, love of Italian culture and a love of Italian food," he said.
On the festival's first day, volunteers went through 1,200 pounds of flour for cheese puffs and dough twists, 600 pounds of potatoes and 600 pounds of sausage.
Nina Fusco has been mixing the potatoes, pepper, salt, eggs, onions, parmesan cheese and parsley for potato pizzas at the festival for 40 years. Her daughters, Laraine Bradley and JoAnn Parish, joined her this year.
Kids help: Vincent Melillo, 11, has been working at the festival since he was 8. His grandfather, Larry Gatta, cooks sausages while his grandmother, Geraldine Gatta, makes cheese puffs.
"It's a lot of fun," he said, a smile creeping across his tanned face.
He cut a vacation at Lake Erie short to work at the festival.
Vincent and Justin Saban, 12, dressed in white aprons, dipped dough twists into powdered sugar. Justin started honing his festival cooking skills three years ago.
It was family that led Nick Marchese, 13, to his festival kitchen duties as well. When Nick was 9, his uncle helped at the festival. This week, Nick's making cheese puffs and shuttling the treats from the basement to the cooks outside.
Paul and Patty Cernich cooked the cheese puffs and dough twists in oil in preparation for Thursday's lunch rush.
"We're both teachers so we have the time to help out in the summer," said Cernich, who teaches at Warren City Schools. "It's good community time. We see people that we see at church but don't get a chance to socialize with. Here we can socialize."
Dennis Biviano, his wife, Sally, and their sons, Dennis Jr., 19, and twins, 15, make meatball splashes, rib tips, Italian ice and snow cones for the festival. Family members are lifelong Mt. Carmel parishioners.
"The key to the success is the fellowship of everyone in the parish and their work ethic," Biviano said. "The work ethic is shown in the quality of the food."