For the past 37 years, San Juan Bautista Catholic Church has hosted an annual Hispanic festival for the Lancaster community with a wide array of food, entertainment, arts and crafts, and children activities.

The festival, which kicked off Monday and runs through Saturday at 425 S. Duke St., Lancaster, has adopted a significantly different format this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, offering food on a takeout basis and virtual entertainment.

“Back in the spring when we discussed the festival, many of us thought we would be back to normal by now,” the Rev. Allan F. Wolfe, the church’s pastor, said. “We had no idea we would still be in the middle of this pandemic, which has taken longer than anticipated.”

However, canceling the event was not an option.

The festival is the biggest fundraising event of the church, providing an average of $50,000 to $70,000 in net revenue every year to fund programs and services to the community.

“We sell more than $40,000 in raffle tickets,” Wolfe said.

Revenue from the festival has a significant impact in the way the church services the community.

“We have more than double the number of families we help through food distribution every week, for example. Also, the families that participate in our preschool program need someone to care for their children and their education,” Wolfe said.

“We also have to cover the food and entertainment, but this year we are going to provide virtual entertainment, and so we established a $5,000 limit for that,” Wolfe said of one of the expenses associated with the festival.

PA Mambo will perform at 6 p.m. Friday and Mariachi Flores at 6 p.m. Saturday at

Food offerings include empanadas, pinchos (pork skewers), burritos, fajitas, tacos, tamales and enchiladas.

“I can do this festival with my eyes closed, but not with COVID-19 dictating everything,” said Miriam Ortega, who coordinates the sale of food for the event.

“People in the community long for this event and we would normally have a packed event, but with social distancing orders things are not going to be the same,” she said. “I hope they still come out and enjoy what we have to offer.”

Orders can be placed at or through the GrubHub app.

The festival traditionally culminates with a grand raffle. This popular activity, which will take place Saturday at 10 p.m. has been modified to include three large cash prizes of $5,000, $4,000 and $3,000 instead of one large prize — a car — as in the past.

The decision to have the festival this year wasn’t an easy one, according to Wolfe, because church leaders didn’t want the event to cause a spread of the virus.

“We are mindful of safety in our community, so precautions are in place to ensure maximum safety, while still having fun,” Wolfe said.

“We didn’t set any goals so we’ll see what happens,” he said. “We are grateful for what we’ve been able to do. We want to provide hope to a community of people that are perhaps dispirited after months of this pandemic with no end in sight.”

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