For Mary Jo Gottschalk, Riverhead’s annual Polish Town Festival, which kicked off Saturday, has been a longstanding tradition for her and her family.
Gottschalk, of Wading River, was participating in her 28th festival as she stood inside the food tent serving packed lines of people while her husband, Rob Gottschalk, their children and grandchildren also helped out as event volunteers.
“They’ve been here since 8 a.m. . . . and they’re loving it. They’re absolutely loving it,” Gottschalk, a civic association member, said of her family.
Hundreds of festival-goers — many wearing the red and white of Poland’s national flag — flocked to Pulaski Street near Polonaise Park to enjoy live polka music, a street fair and food at the 43rd annual festival, which organizers said was expected to draw several thousand people during the weekend.
The two-day celebration, which continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is hosted by the Polish Town Civic Association.
Adam Biedrzycki, 42, of Riverhead, was spending his 15th year at the festival with his wife, Barbara Biedrzycki, and their 9-year-old son, Brian, eating gyros on the sidewalk near the lines of tables and food carts. The Biedrztckis are of Polish descent, and Brian, sporting a Polish soccer jersey similar to what his father was wearing, said he liked seeing his heritage on display everywhere.
“It’s cool for people to follow along, even if they’re not from the culture,” said Brian, adding that he was having a great time — though he wished the amusement rides weren’t missing from this year’s event.
Local politicians including state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Suffolk County Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Riverhead Town board members Jodi Giglio and John Dunleavy attended the event and presented a citation to the civic association.
Michael Miller, 53, of Hauppauge, a longtime attendee, cheered on his youngest son as he kicked a soccer ball successfully into a hole at one of the carnival booths. Miller and his wife, Christina Miller, 40, were spending the day with their two sons Matt, 4, and Michael Miller, 7.
Holding a windmill chime she bought at a booth, she said her favorite part of the festival was the food and shopping.
Her husband, when asked what his favorite part of the festival was, gestured to his family.
“It’s this right here,” he said with a smile. “It’s spending the day with the family and the kids love it.”