The leaves are falling, the turkeys are roasting and the pies are baking — it can only mean one thing: it’s time for the 37th Annual Feastable at St. Mary Mother of God Parish in Menomonee Falls.
The all-you-can-eat Thanksgiving-style community meal and fundraiser, which includes a silent auction and cash raffle, will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 20 and 21 in the St. Mary Parish School Activity Center.
Feastable is more than a delicious home-cooked dinner and charity event — it’s a tradition that spans decades and has been marshaled through the years by faithful parish volunteers.
One such volunteer is Ken Wildt.
Wildt and his wife, Nancy, are longtime parishioners of St. Mary Parish, and have actively given of their time and talents in a variety of ways. Wildt, who served as Feastable chair from 2000-18, explained the event’s origins.
“For many years, we had a parish festival that took place on the church grounds,” Wildt said. “It had rides, games, bingo and a big chicken dinner. Then Six Flags Great America opened and families had other places to take children for amusement park games and rides. So it was decided that rather than have a festival, we would have a big community meal.”
Although the initial inspiration for the event came from the parish festival’s popular chicken dinner, the Feastable menu in its inaugural year was far more elaborate. The meal included: turkey and dressing, baked ham, roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, a vegetable medley, coleslaw, pasta salads, fruit salad, vegetable salad, homemade rolls and tea breads, assorted relishes, and homemade tortes, pies and cakes, according to a notice in the Oct. 19, 1986, St. Mary bulletin.
With all that, “why wouldn’t you want to go?” Wildt said.
Almost four decades later, the menu includes many of the same items, although some recipe modifications have been made this year in consideration of common dietary restrictions, said 2023 Feastable Chair Karen Zyszkiewicz.
“We know a lot of people have gluten and dairy sensitivities so we are trying to be mindful of that,” she said. “Turkey will be served without gravy and cooked in broth, so it will be completely gluten free. We will also have some gluten-free desserts, and our two veggies will be cooked without butter, so they will be dairy free.”
Zyszkiewicz and her husband Denis became St. Mary parishioners in 2008. With a background in event planning, Zyszkiewicz was drawn to become a Feastable volunteer. It wasn’t long before Wildt recognized her organizational skills, and eventually asked her to take over his post as chair.
While Feastable has had its share of challenges over the years — an army field kitchen on wheels was brought in to do the cooking when parish facilities were under construction in the early 2000s, Wildt said — only a year after she took over, Zyszkiewicz found herself navigating uncharted waters during the pandemic.
“Feastable, like many events, was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19,” she said. “Then in 2021, we brought it back for takeout only.”
Last year, Feastable was again offered as a sit-down dinner, though attendance did not return to pre-pandemic levels. This year, food costs and availability have continued to be challenges for organizers. Zyszkiewicz noted the price of turkey has increased by 30 cents per pound in the past year, and retailer inventory of certain items — like a favorite boxed breadcrumb stuffing — has been hit or miss. Zyszkiewicz did manage to locate and purchase the desired quantity and flavor of the stuffing in time for the event.
Volunteers Make it Happen
One of the recurring challenges any longstanding charity event faces — and Feastable is no exception — is volunteer turnover. A core group of committed parishioners at St. Mary supports Feastable in a variety of ways, including food preparation, advance ticket sales, event day support and clean up, and organizing the silent auction.
Angie Tappa, like many Feastable volunteers, was introduced to the event as an attendee. It was a fun night out for her entire family — husband, Dcn. Lance Tappa, and their three sons — while they were growing up. Logan, 18, is now a freshman at the University of Dayton; Carson is a junior at Marquette University High School; and Ben, 13, is in eighth grade and his final year at St. Mary Parish School.
“Our family would attend and enjoy the food and fellowship of Feastable,” Angie Tappa said. “It was a great way to catch up with other members of the parish, as well as meet new members.”
In 2015, Tappa came on as a volunteer. She assisted in the event raffle, which has since been replaced by a silent auction. She and other volunteers collected raffle items from parishioner donations and organized, bundled and decorated them for display.
“From there, I began to streamline some of the processes in place to organize the volunteers, find a local printer to create the cash raffle tickets and placemats, as well as track sales and final numbers in order to put the big picture together of Feastable expenses and income,” Tappa said.
Besides offering parishioners an opportunity to share their time and talents, Feastable is a great opportunity for students at St. Mary Parish School and those enrolled in the faith formation program and Confirmation classes to accrue service hours, Tappa said.
“Students in middle school grades through high school can provide service for our parish community, give back and work with many of our senior parish members,” she said. Students help in a variety of ways that include serving coffee and milk, clearing and setting tables.
New this year, St. Mary Parish School students will also be adding special decor to the event — luminaries they have decorated for the Catholic Schools Walk, which are inspired by the school’s 2023-24 theme, “Go Light Our World.”
“We wanted to incorporate the luminary bags into a school-wide design competition to raise awareness for the Catholic Schools Walk and parish Feastable,” said Kristin Stanek, co-chair of the St. Mary Parish School Catholic Schools Walk Committee. “Then we will light the luminaries around school and church on Oct. 20-21 for Feastable. It’s a great evening event and a way to bring together the parish and school communities to ‘Go Light Our World.’”
Msgr. Ross Shecterle, who has served at St. Mary and St. Anthony parishes in Menomonee Falls since 2017, said the core Feastable volunteers are a very dedicated group.
“We are blessed to have many passionate parishioners who support Feastable, as well as our other ministries and initiatives,” he said. “These volunteers really make our parish special and without them we wouldn’t be who we are. I truly believe it is our patroness, our Blessed Mother Mary, at work.”
Feastable is open to the public and tickets can be purchased in advance online, or at the door.
“The food is fantastic, the company is enjoyable and you don’t have to cook or clean up afterward,” Tappa said.
St. Mary Parish Feastable
Date: Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21
Time: 4 to 8 p.m.
Place: St. Mary Parish School Activity Center, N89W16215 Cleveland Ave., Menomonee Falls, WI 53051
Cost: $16 for ages 12-59; $14 for ages 60-plus; $9 for ages 7-11; and free for ages 6 and younger
Tickets available at the door or online at https://bit.ly/stmaryfeast