Matthews – Mint Hill Weekly
Annual carnival-style festival predicted to attract thousands
Father Patrick Hoare of St. John Neumann Catholic Church had aspirations five years ago to create an annual event that raised money for the church, but also brought the parish and greater community together.
Out of this desire grew SonFest, an annual carnival-style church festival with games, rides and food with international flair.
The festival will take place on June 12, a Friday, from 5 to 11 p.m. and June 13, a Saturday, from 4 to 11 p.m. The church expects between 4,000 and 5,000 attendees. The event is free and open to the public; however, participants can purchase tickets for games, rides and food and beverages.
Hoare said SonFest has been a great way to bring together his congregation. The church’s parishioners include people originally from Mexico, Central America, South America, eastern Africa, Brazil, Vietnam and Poland, as well as native U.S. citizens.
“We have a very diverse and interesting parish community,” Hoare said. “We wanted to find a way to celebrate and build on it.”
The congregation has embraced this sentiment by preparing and selling cultural food at the festival. Hoare said festivalgoers will have several dining options that include an assortment of standard carnival food, such as funnel cakes and cotton candy, alongside Polish, Latin American, Vietnamese and Eritrean cuisine. The American Burger Company also will sell burgers and sponsor a Roadster Contest, which is a race to finish a four-patty Roadster burger. The winner will receive a trophy and be inducted into the “Roadster Hall of Fame.” The contest will take place at various times throughout the festival.
Hoare said this is the first year for the burger-eating challenge, which replaces their church sponsored hot dog-eating contest. He anticipates this event will stir a lot of excitement.
The festival also will feature live entertainment, with bands performing Christian and contemporary music, as well as the Monroe-based big band group Reflection Big Band. On Saturday night, the festival will end with a 20-minute laser light show choreographed to Christian and patriotic music.
The money raised from the festival contributes to various projects within St. John Neumann. Last year’s festival brought in $30,000, and the church aspires to raise the same amount this year. Hoare said the money helps the church in many ways – one year the money went toward sanctuary renovations, and last year’s proceeds supported youth programs.
Over the last few years, Hoare said, the church has chosen to give back to the community by donating 10 percent of festival proceeds to a local nonprofit. This year’s proceeds will benefit The Relatives, which provides crisis and residential housing and other resources to youth in the greater Charlotte area.
Penny Parker, development director at The Relatives, said the money received will support the nonprofit’s general program fund, which could help alleviate financial hardship in three programs: Crisis Center, for youth 7 to 17 years old who need transitional housing and resources while dealing with an emergency situation; Journey Place, a residential program for six young men 18 to 24 years old, who learn to live on their own after aging out of foster care; and On Ramp, a job resource center that provides life skills and educational opportunities for youth 16 to 24 years old.
“We are very grateful to the church, and we plan to have staff on site at the festival to provide information about what we do,” Parker said.
Beyond helping others, Hoare feels the festival is important because it gives people the chance to come together and have fun. He recalled the first year preparing for the big event, saying he was anxious about what the outcome would be, given the church had invested so much money into the event. At the end of the first church festival, an answer was delivered to him in the simplest way.
“A young boy, whose name I don’t remember, came up to me and said with a big smile, ‘Thank you for doing this for us.’”
Hoare said that’s all he needed to know he was on the right path.
“We want to create a memory,” he said. “Something that could go on right up the road that community and parish members could look forward to every year.”
Find more information at http://4sjnc.org/sonfest_2015.
St. John Neumann Catholic is located 8451 Idlewild Road in Charlotte, just outside of Matthews and Mint Hill.