The parishioners of St. Bernadette's have put their money where their mouths are. To support the Orchard Park parish's youth ministry, parishioners bought $1,300 worth of the luncheon meat at the May 20 Baloneyfest. The fundraising idea came from Father Paul Seil, pastor and friend of the Wardynski family of Wardynski Meats fame, who donated 16 logs of baloney to the parish.
"Father Paul came up to me a month and half or so ago," explained youth minister Jesse Saltarelli. "He said, 'I think I have a great idea. We're going to sell baloney as our fundraiser.' I said, 'OK, what does that entail?' Father Paul, being the master of baloney, as he is, and being a good friend of Skip Wardynski, said, 'I have all this baloney. I think that is a crazy enough idea to work.' And I totally agreed with him."
Father Seil, who has shown his cooking skills as host of "Our Daily Bread," fried up some thick slices of baloney with cheese and onions, while the kids from the parish's Life Teen and Edge programs served up side orders of mac & cheese and potato salad. Add a drink and a cookie to that, and you have dinner. Things got frantic pretty early with those middle and high schoolers running into the kitchen with orders calling for "lotta onions." "How many is a lotta?" asked Father Seil.
The crew sold more than half their 200 orders less than an hour into the night.
"As with all of our things, it's community building," explained Jake Druzbik, assistant director of youth ministry. "We wanted to do this after the Mass because people go to the Mass for an hour, then go home and they're done with it. When they have the opportunity to be around other parishioners for half an hour while they're eating, that builds community and strengthens our church."
It also furthers their relationship with the kids, as they are the ones running the show, Druzbik continued. "It's really important to get them in the same room. When you're at Mass, you're sitting next to them, but maybe you don't really know that person. When you sit down and eat with them for a little while, you might get to know them a little bit better."
St. Bernadette's has had a youth ministry program for 14 years. They partnered with Nativity of Our Lord Parish in Orchard Park until two years ago. The Life Teen Program, geared towards high schoolers, sees about 20-30 teens each Sunday night, while the junior high program, the Edge, has a strong 70 kids.
"Life Teen is essentially our parent company," said Druzbik. "Their motto is 'Leading teens closer to Christ.' So, we're doing that through community. It's a more engaging way to get kids involved with their faith and kids into their Church, rather than just sitting in a classroom."
"I think the youth ministry program here is really fun. I think it's a good way to learn about our faith than just the traditional kind of class," said Bebe Choroser, 14. "We do interactive stuff. We'll do a game and then see how it ties in to what we're learning about."
Stefanie Lauria, now 18 and back from college to help out at Baloneyfest, has been involved in Life Teen for five years.
"It's really great. It's really opened my eyes. I kind of lost my faith and I'm kind of back in with it. I've met so many great people here who I consider really good friends," she said.
Lauria is a good example of what Life Teen and St. Bernadette's hopes to accomplish. A teen who learns about his or her faith and continues to live that faith as an adult is considered a victory.
"At Life Teen, the real goal for us is to create a community of young people within the Church at their parish community who are in a safe place, have accountability with one another as they grow in their faith and learn more about their faith," explained Saltarelli.
The teens reach far and wide to help their community. Some trips take them to St. Luke's Mission of Mercy on Buffalo's East Side, others to Washington, D.C., to help those in need. Many of those involved in Life Teen take part of parish life as lectors and Eucharistic ministers.
"We're pretty excited about that. We get the kids involved in the church," said Druzbik.
Funds raised from the fest will go to teens from St. Bernadette's and the Church of the Annunciation in Elma to a Life Teen camp in Georgia, where they can experience talks, sacraments, prayer and some physical challenges.