Pandemic plagues summer picnic plans

Whether you are buying a chance on a handmade quilt, spinning the wheel at a cake booth, catching up with friends or taking a chance on a capital prize, parish picnics are synonymous with summertime in Louisville.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, parishes in the Archdiocese of Louisville have either cancelled, rescheduled or shifted picnics to a virtual platform.

The concern — beyond a loss of summertime fun and fellowship — is how these changes will affect parishes and the ministries they support.

St. Paul Church has moved its picnic to Oct. 1-3. The parish on Dixie Highway typically hosts a picnic in mid-June but decided to postpone because it was the best way to protect volunteers and patrons, said Shane Liford, co-chair of the picnic.

“We didn’t feel comfortable hosting the picnic under the current restrictions. We need a big crowd for a successful picnic,”
Liford said in a recent interview.

Prior to the October picnic, Liford said he and the committee will monitor guidelines issued by the state of Kentucky regarding gatherings and other recommendations.

To cancel the picnic outright would have been a tough decision, Liford said, adding, it’s one they may very well have to consider eventually.

“This is our biggest fundraiser of the year. On Dixie

Highway, we get a pretty big crowd. It’s a big event for us,” Liford said.

In recent years, St. Paul’s picnic has generated about $80,000 in profit annually, which funds a variety of parish ministries.

“It ends up touching every ministry in the parish. If we don’t have it, it will impact every ministry and would be a pretty big loss,” Liford said.

Holy Family Church, 3938 Poplar Level Road, typically hosts a parish picnic in late June. The parish initially rescheduled for a late July weekend, but has since decided to cancel the picnic altogether.

Jackie Mudd, chairperson of the picnic, said the decision was tough but it was made to keep people safe and limit the spread of coronavirus.

“Most of our parishioners do not want to risk it working in such a large, crowded event,” Mudd said.

Once she and others on the picnic committee began looking at the guidelines from state government and recommendations from the gaming commission, Mudd said they couldn’t figure out a safe way to hold an event that attracts so many people.

“Short of putting up Plexiglas dividers, we didn’t know how to maintain distance between volunteers and guests,” said Mudd, who also noted that enforcing face masks could be problematic.

The parish plans to host a series of fish fries this fall and may incorporate a picnic booth or two. Patrons can choose between drive-through or carry-out. The capital prize drawing normally held at the picnic will be drawn on Halloween this year.

Each year, Holy Family picnic organizers hope to make at least $25,000. The funds typically go toward campus or building improvements, Mudd said. The last couple of years, the event has raised more than $40,000 and the extra funds have been put towards debt reduction for the parish.

Dan Gerber, co-chair of the St. Martha Church picnic, said the cancellation of the parish picnic is a “huge loss.”

In recent years, the picnic has made from $100,000 to $120,000, Gerber said.

“It’s a pretty big impact or loss for the parish,” he said.

Funds from the picnic go toward a variety of ministries at the parish, including fully funding the altar society. A large amount of the proceeds also helps meet needs of the parish school, Gerber said.

The parish held a virtual capital prize drawing on June 27. First prize was $7,500. Second and third prizes were $2,000 and $500, respectively. Picnic organizers said they hoped to generate $20,000 from the raffle.

Cancellation of the in-person carnival at St. Agnes Church will have repercussions beyond the parish, said Jennifer O’Dea, co-chair of the St. Agnes Carnival.

As one of the area’s largest church picnics, the carnival can generate anywhere from $70,000 to $120,000 in profit, depending on the weather and crowd size.

While the majority of the money supports parish ministries and school operations, 10 percent of the profit is set aside for the parish’s Outreach Committee, O’Dea said.

“Ten percent of the proceeds goes to our community outreach program, providing much needed funding for non-profit agencies throughout the Louisville area that serves the needs of those on the margins of society,” O’Dea said.

Ten percent of all parish fundraisers, including fish fries and various school fundraisers, also fund grants distributed by the Outreach Committee.

In 2019, St. Agnes distributed more than $32,000 to nine area non-profits, including St. John Center, Nativity Academy, St. Vincent de Paul Family Center, Catholic Charities Family Support, Roederer Prison Ministry, Sitio Clothing Ministry and CrossRoads Ministry.

Carnival organizers have shifted the event to a virtual format this year. A $10,000 capital prize drawing will take place on July 18. And, patrons will be able to purchase a barbecue dinner in a drive-through. One in-person event will take place — a dunking booth.

Participants must sign up online to participate and adhere to proper distancing guidelines. The dunk-ees will include Father Justin Nelson Alphonse, pastor; Father Febin Barose, associate pastor; and Julie Daly, school principal.

O’Dea said that while the virtual carnival will not be the same experience, organizers hope to make about half of what they would in a typical year.

Also among those who decided to move their picnic to a virtual experience is the iconic St. Joe’s Picnic For The Kids.

As the area’s longest-running summer picnic — 171 years — St. Joseph’s Children’s Home will offer online raffle items, merchandise sales and a #PicnicAtHome social media contest on Aug. 7 and 8. Families will also be able to drop off coins and cash that they would have used at picnic booths.

“We humbly ask our community that whatever you would normally spend by taking a chance at a wheel game, playing bingo and blackjack, winning a cake, or enjoying your favorite beverage and food at the picnic, to consider making a direct donation this year to St. Joe’s kids,” said Cheryl Fischer, St. Joe’s picnic committee co-chair.

Check the organization’s website for up-to-date listings and raffle announcements at

Picnic-goers tried their hand at a dime booth at the 2019 St. Joe’s Picnic For The Kids. The 171st St. Joe’s picnic will take place virtually this year. (Photo Special to The Record)
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Jessica Able
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