Home Our Diocese Cancellation of carnivals leaves parishes working to recoup lost revenue

Cancellation of carnivals leaves parishes working to recoup lost revenue

People enjoy the food during the 2018 St. Anthony of Padua Italian Festival. Photo by Don Blake.

Among the casualties of the coronavirus pandemic has been the parish carnival, with festivals around the diocese being canceled. That has resulted in lost revenue for these parishes, and for many the carnival is the most lucrative source of income.

A lack of rides, games of chance and outdoor dining has forced parishes to take a look at their bottom lines to figure out how to make up the lost income. Despite the financial hit, representatives of three parishes say that while the loss hurts, they’re confident they’ll make it through.

The biggest festival in the diocese takes place each June at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Wilmington, but the 2020 Italian Festival was canceled early in the pandemic.

Carnival goers spin around with the ferris wheel in the early evening sky during St. Helena Parish Carnival in 2019. Photo/Don Blake

“We were one of the first major events in Delaware (to cancel). It’s just such a big event to try to pull off, and there were so many unknowns. To be fair and to be safe to our vendors and our volunteers, we just decided we needed to shut it down,” said Bob Shields, the business manager at St. Anthony’s.

The loss of the festival leaves a hole in the parish budget of $350-400,000, he said. The primary benefactor of the event is St. Anthony of Padua Elementary School, and the parish also receives some of those funds. To try to make up some of that loss, Shields said, a series of smaller fundraisers will be held during the course of the year.

These events will have a festival-related theme, including dinners or music. There won’t be any rides this year.

In Claymont, the parish carnival at Holy Rosary brings in about $30,000 each year, said Bill Moschelle, the parish manager. Holy Rosary also earns a significant amount of money from its weekly bingo night, which hasn’t been held since March, although that could be close to returning. In addition, the former parish school is empty after having been rented out for the past 10 years or so.

“We haven’t done any big projects,” Moschelle said. “We’re trying to save money here and there.”

The carnival at St. Joseph Parish in Middletown brings in “tens of thousands” of dollars, said the pastor, Msgr. David Kelley. It was supposed to take place in mid-July.

“There’s just no way we could do social distancing at a carnival. It would be impossible,” he said.

The carnival committee is exploring alternatives that would take place during the remainder of the year. The nature and timing of any event is not certain yet, Msgr. Kelley said.

The offertory at St. Joseph has remained consistent, which has helped, he continued. Many parishioners had already signed up for online giving, and the parish set up a temporary option for those who normally donate using envelopes. Now that Mass has resumed and the office is open, parishioners are stopping by to drop off envelopes.

Giving at Holy Rosary has held steady during the pandemic, Moschelle said, and rental income from the school has allowed the parish to build up some savings that will help.

All three parishes have taken advantage of the federal Payroll Protection Program, which makes money available from the federal government as a grant. If staffing levels do not hold steady, that becomes a loan that must be repaid.

“That PPP loan-slash-grant really has taken tremendous pressure off,” Moschelle said.

Beyond the PPP, Shields said, “I still need to take a look at some of the other programs that are out there to see if we qualify.”

Employees of St. Anthony’s are taking a 5 percent pay reduction beginning in July. Shields said the diocese was able to secure reduced healthcare premiums, which also has helped.

“It’s going to be a challenge, and we’re going to have to monitor the budget and that stuff closely, but all these pieces come together and we just have to look forward to next year,” he said.

St. Helena
Carnival goers ride the Super Shot ride during last year’s St. Helena Parish Carnival. Photo/Don Blake

There will be no layoffs at St. Joseph’s, Msgr. Kelley said, although hours have been cut for some employees since there are no events at the church or its mission churches, St. Francis Xavier (Old Bohemia) near Warwick, Md., and St. Rose of Lima Church in Chesapeake City, Md. Expenses are being trimmed wherever feasible.

“The staff is very good about watching their budgets. We’re working hard to control costs as much as we can,” he said.

The parishes are planning to have their events next year and hope for the best. Msgr. Kelley said the carnival is one of the biggest events in Middletown and brings lots of people together.

“It’s a great community event,” he said. “It’s about building community. It’s more about the people than it is about the money. That’s the real benefit to us.”

Shields said the committee at St. Anthony’s will use its former pastor, the late Oblate Father Roberto Balducelli, the founder of the Italian Festival, as an inspiration.

“We do look back on him and say, well, where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we’ll get it done.”