With flashing lights from whirling amusement park rides, intoxicating smells of gyros and funnel cakes, and stuffed animals of all shapes and sizes, it is easy to understand the lure of the Family Festival.
But every attendee — young and old — has individual reasons for visiting the annual carnival, which runs through Saturday and benefits the Catholic parish off Siebert Road in Ross.
A farmer’s market, amusement park rides and games, flea market, nightly bingo and themed meals have made the 35-year-old festival an institution in the North Hills, says Father Bill Terza.
“It is an opportunity to come out and support the parish, have fun and socialize with your friends and neighbors.”
The festival runs from 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday. Parking is available in the church lots and at the . Ross Towne Center offers overflow parking and a shuttle runs every 15 minutes to the church.
For some like Carrie Richards of West View, who has been attending the event for at least 20 years, summer wouldn’t be complete without the festival.
“It is a tradition for us,” she said, motioning to her husband and daughter, Kendra, 10, as her daughter clutched a powder blue bear accented with fluorescent spirals won during a squirt gun-powered race game.
The race game is one of many amusement park chance games. Other games include a ping pong ball toss that secures a goldfish for the winner and dart-throwing challenges. Church volunteers also run carnival games such as a money wheel and kid-friendly birthday and crazy hat wheels as well as pic-tac. Prices range from 25 cents to $3 for games.
Like Richards, bringing her family to the festival is a summer rite of passage for Erin Casto of Ross. Her son Zack, 2, enjoyed the amusement park rides, including a spinning dragons ride, carousel and scrambler.
For thrill-seekers, a zero-gravity ride plasters riders to the wall and spins sideways, while another ride straps in riders with a shoulder harness and flips them upside down dangling their feet freely. Classic carnival rides, including antique cars, a Ferris wheel and fun slide, also are available. Ride tickets are $1 each and each ride requires two to four tickets. A 20-ticket strip costs $15 and a 30 ticket-strip costs $20.
Apart from games and rides, visitors can find plenty of carnival fare, such as hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza ranging in price from $2 to $4. Bottled soda and water are $1. A bake shop offers desserts ranging from 50 cents to $10 for cakes, cookies and candies.
Also unique to the festival is a large farmer’s market with low prices and fresh offerings. Stocked with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables from cherries and red beets to spring mix and corn on the cob, the farmer’s market is run by produce men Pete Machi and Mario Grana, both of McCandless.
“People go crazy for it,” Machi said. “It is full of people coming and going all night, every night.”
At Vincentian Hall in St. Sebastian School, nightly meals with Italian, Oktoberfest and All-American themes run from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Upstairs, a main hallway offers 11 classrooms of flea market items ranging from a folding weight bench to six sets of golf clubs and a maroon prom gown. Nightly bingo also runs throughout the event in the school.
Thousands will attend the festival, said parishioner and volunteer Ed Reiter of McCandless.
“People know the week of the festival," Reiter said. "They expect it every year.”