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Annual Festa Italiana Descends on White Plains

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Richard and Geradine Schmidt said they stumbled upon Our Lady of Mount Carmel church's annual Festa Italiana last year and enjoyed it so much that they came back for a second night. The Briarcliff Manor couple plans to hit the festival twice this year as well.

"It's a nice environment with the open space and live entertainment and the prices are very good. We think it's better than the [festivals] by us in Ossining and at the Kensico Dam," said Richard Schmidt, who works at the Phelps Memorial Hospital.

Like many others, the Schmidts arrived a few minutes before the festival's 6 p.m. kickoff with their stomaches on their mind. The duo enjoyed sausage and peppers, zeppole, and nachos.

All of the dishes are homemade, according to Dina Roselli Cochrane, one of the Festa Italiana committee co-chairs.

"We try to keep it similar to Italian festivals with the sausages and calzones and the meatballs. The ladies have been working all afternoon making them," said Roselli Cochrane, 40, a West Harrison resident. "The Bar Italiana is all imported with the pastries, drinks, and cappuchino machine. That really brings the ambiance of being back in Italy."

Our Lady of Mount Carmel church on S. Lexington Avenue has thrown a heritage and faith festival in honor of its patron saint on and off since the church's debut in 1902. Beginning in 1980, the Festa Italiana became a staple of White Plains' summers. The four day celebration has begun to attract anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 attendees a day and raise about $50,000 to $60,000 for the church.

Organizing, assembling, and monitoring the casino, game booths, food vendors, and kid and adult-friendly entertainment happened thanks to roughly 1,000 volunteers.

"We plan the whole year. As soon as we finish we start looking at next year," said Roselli Cochrane, who works as an administrative assistant and Southern Westchester BOCES. "As hard as we work and as hard as the planning can be, it's the feeling of families and togetherness that makes it all worth it."

Honoring Italian roots with younger folks has become particularly important for many parents, including to Roselli Cochrane.

"I'm here as a third-generation Italian-American, and now my son is here, so my heritage is deep in this church," said Roselli Cochrane, whose parents were married at Mount Carmel and had her baptized there. "Honoring my heritage seems very important, especially with the younger generations like my son."

After three evenings of Italian and English tunes and plenty of food behind the church from 6 p.m. to midnight, a traditional procession concludes the festival this Sunday at 4 p.m. Church members will carry the patron saint, Our Lady of Carmel, in a bed on their shoulders through the streets of White Plains. Hymns is English and Italian will accompany the procession as it ushers attendees into the church for a 5 p.m. mass.

"There's nothing like seeing her during the procession. Especially if it's a nice sunny day because she looks like she has a halo," said Roselli Cochrane.

Do you have a favorite memory from the Festa Italiana? Email stories or photos to strangle@thedailywhiteplains.com and we'll include them in future coverage.

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