Elizabeth Mende, 7, polkas with Don Wozniak, right, while her twin, Veronica, takes a spin around the floor with Bill Klein.
Before the rows of booths selling french fries, funnel cakes, pierogies, and ice-cream cones crowded along Lagrange Street this weekend, before the moonwalk was inflated or the polka bandstands were erected, organizers of the 18th annual Polish Festival had a mission.
“All the revenue goes back into the neighborhood. That's what we're working for,” said Aggie Dahar, who has handled the fest's public relations for seven years. “No one working here gets paid. We have 300 to 350 volunteers.”
The festival, originally a one-day affair, was begun in 1984 by the Lagrange Development Corp. in an effort to raise money and awareness for the neighborhood.
Among the biggest draws of the festival is the food, which Tony DeAngelo and Veronica Mocek sat down to sample in front of the sign for a Lagrange Street business.
“We wanted to draw attention here, to hold something visible to show the city that we care, and that we're taking action in our community,” said Marty Blaszczyk, an original member of the festival's organizing committee.
Their efforts have succeeded.
“Soon after the first festival, we were able to open an office,” said Mr. Blaszczyk. “And at the corporation's annual meeting in January, they announced an operating budget for this year of around $2 million. We're meeting our goals.”
The popularity of the festival, expected to draw 80,000 visitors this year, has allowed Lagrange Development Corp. to offer the neighborhood's more than 20,000 residents an array of services to improve the community.
The corporation provides low-interest home loans; buys, restores, and sells old houses; sponsors youth baseball and basketball teams, and provides free paint and primer to homeowners in the neighborhood.
Kalee Callihan, 4, and her sister, Britenee, 3, get a ride down Lagrange Street from their aunt, Zena Cole during the 18th annual Polish Festival.
“It's a very comprehensive organization,” executive director Terry Glazer said. “The bulk of our money goes into revitalization projects. We're constantly working to maintain and enhance the neighborhood.”
Four years ago, to involve area youth in its efforts, the corporation began offering scholarships to students at Woodward and Central Catholic high schools.
The scholarships are awarded according to unique criteria.
“It's not about grades - as long as they can get into college somewhere, they're eligible,” Ms. Dahar said. “We look at how involved the student is with the community. Everyone has the ability to give back to where they live.”
As important as its fund-raising, organizers say, is the opportunity to come together as a community.
“Here we are, one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Toledo, and it's still a Polish festival that rallies us,” Ms. Dahar said.
“We don't charge admission,” said Mr. Glazer. “And that's because we want to get people here to see the neighborhood, to showcase everything we have to offer. We're about promoting the neighborhood's culture and history, about seeing old friends.”
Part of that history is St. Hedwig's Catholic Church, which holds its own festival in conjunction with the Polish fest.
“We've been having an event like this for over 75 years,” said John Michalak, general chairman of St. Hedwig's festival. “But now, doing it with the Polish festival, we're a lot bigger. They help us, and we help them. It's a very cooperative venture.”