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Feast of St. Rocco relies on years of tradition and lots of food

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Feast of St. Rocco relies on years of tradition and lots of food.

It was Glen Cove’s 47th annual San Rocco feast, and patrons left hungry and happy. Lucille Johnson’s grandfather and uncle helped build St Rocco’s Church in Glen Cove in 1937.

The meatballs served at the Catholic Church’s annual Feast of San Rocco, which ends on Sunday, are based on meatball recipes passed down by family members for generations.

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Johnson, 86, of Glen Cove, has been volunteering at the feast for years, helping to prepare the homemade Italian specialties that thousands of Long Islanders and others wait in line every year.

“We made 140 plates of eggplant and it was done in a day,” Johnson said of eggplant parmesan and eggplant roratini. “We all know what we’re doing. We’ve been doing it for years.”

Maria Greco, 46, of Glen Cove, said Johnson was one of more than 200 volunteers serving the event each day, helping to oversee the operation of the church hall “spaghetti shop”.

“We would never have been able to go on without all the volunteers and all the women cooking,” Greco said.

“These positions are passed down from generation to generation,” said former Glen Cove Mayor Reggie Spinello, one of the event’s coordinators. “It really is one of the most beautiful traditions in the feast.”

The 46th annual event, which kicks off Wednesday, also includes carnival rides, games, and streets near the church filled with non-Italian delicacies such as fried Oreos, as well as Italian specialties such as red and white fresh Cut peach wine.

Johnson said food preparations began more than three weeks ago, and his family roots, like many Glenn Cove residents of Italian descent, are in Sturno, Italy, east of Naples. Only 20 men and women prepare and cook thousands of pounds of food, working like an assembly line.

Some dishes are prepared exactly the same day.

“We had 700 pounds of tripe and we ran out of it on Friday,” Johnson said. “So we made it this morning.”

Tripe with vegetables and red sauce is a long-time favorite for some.

Arturo Gomes, the chef and former owner of an Italian-French restaurant in Glen Cove, sent someone to Brooklyn to buy tripe Saturday morning.

Gomez said some dishes are on the menu every day. Eggplant Parmesan is often the most popular dish, he said. Lasagna, grilled clams, rice balls and pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage are other standards. There are also freshly prepared daily specials such as Shrimp Oregano, Ribs and Pasta on Saturdays.

Josephine Capobianco, 85, immigrated from Sturno in 1959 and has been volunteering for 30 years. “I love it because I love my church,” she said. “That’s the only way to keep the church going. We made it and we don’t want it to go away.” Proceeds from the banquet finance the operation of the church.

San Rocco still has Sunday Mass in Italian, and although Cabo Bianco now speaks fluent English, she attends it every week. “It’s your roots,” she said.

On Sundays, the feast starts at 3pm. By 10 p.m. on the parish grounds and surrounding streets at 18 Third Street. Spinello said that after the 10:30 a.m. mass, a traditional procession takes place in the block near the church, which includes a statue of San Rocco. He said it usually lasts until about 2 p.m., stopping at the patient’s home.

Saint Rocco was a French saint who died in the 14th century and is considered a protector against epidemics and many diseases.

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