It’s that time of year again. For one day only, St. Stanislaus Roman Catholic Church will pulse with the smells, tastes and spirit of Poland. The annual celebration has been bringing cultural flair and fare to southeastern NC for 17 years. This year St. Stan’s will continue enthralling attendees, building off a decade of momentum.
While delivering a local dose of Polish tradition certainly underpins the shindig, it also has used proceeds to combat Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and funnel money into the scholarship and outreach programs of the church, which benefits the Castle Hayne community. In fact, the festival was conceptualized in part to aid St. Stan during a time when the parish was hoping to preserve and expand their charitable works.
The festival drew crowds of around 1,000 during its inaugural year. Since, it’s grown annually and now attracts almost 5,000 eager people—many of whom return year after year.
“With the influx of Northerners and Midwesterners of different ethnic backgrounds to our area, we hear every year from our guests that our festival reminds them of ‘the festivals that they used to go to back home,’” festival co-chair Marty Yakimovich reports. “In our guest book over the years, we have attendees that have signed in from all parts of North Carolina, as well as 10 different states.”
Immense interest the church has culled for its cultural offerings comes as no surprise; each year food by the thousands of pounds is served, all prepped by the women of the parish. However, after selling out of their tasty selections the first two years, they quickly concluded this was an impossible feat to undertake. For the past 15 years, they have had 3,000 pounds of Kielbasa shipped down from Upstate New York, and 2,200 dozen pierogi sent in from Pennsylvania. They’re sold hot or frozen and packaged for folks to take home. Still, dedicated members of the church add to the spread, as they bake their own cookies and poppy seed and nut rolls. These mainstays typically sell out within the first two hours.
The festival also sates appetites with signature galumpkis (stuffed cabbage rolls). Potato pancakes come hot off the grill, along with sausage dogs, served with authentic Polish cabbage (a dish akin to sauerkraut) prepared by a church parishoneer who only recently came to Wilmington from Poland.
The day will kick off by tapping the beer, of course. “For several years, we had only domestic draft beer: Anheuser-Busch products from the local beer distributor,” Yakimovich tells. “We had several requests for Polish beer and were able to locate a distributor in Raleigh that supplied us with imported Polish canned beer for a couple of years.”
Today, they’ve expanded their brew selection even further by teaming up with Front Street Brewery for a draft variety. The planning committee contacted master brewer Kevin Kozak—also of Polish descent. He quickly jumped on board to create St. Stan’s Baltic Porter, which is made specially for the festival each year and fermented with lager yeast. The pour adds a chocolate and caramel malt, smooth in flavor. They ordered only four kegs of St. Stan’s Baltic Porter, but mounting enthusiasm has upped the supply to nearly 10 kegs annually. This year they will expand further to include wine for the non beer drinkers.
Traditional Polish music and fun will permeate the festival. The Chardon Polka Band of Ohio will perform for their second year in a row. The troupe’s leader, Jake Kouwe, is a Wilmington native. They’ve skyrocketed to notoriety through a series of YouTube videos and a reality TV show, “Polka Kings,” which airs on Reelz TV.
“They bring a youthful exuberance with their own version of Polka music,” Yakimovich says. “The band calls it ‘Polka with an attitude.’” They play traditional hits and transform modern pop into fun frolics on the dancefloor.
Saint Stan’s Polish Festival also will feature craft booths, as church members sell everything from T-shirts and souvenirs imported from Poland, to homemade winter caps and scarves. For the kiddies, there will be inflatables and carnival-style games with prizes. There also will be a food booth with hot dogs and cotton candy for the kids.
Silent auction and raffles will be held throughout the day, and folks can tour the century-old church. “Everyone gets a chance to be Polish for the day,” Yakimovich declares.
Runoff parking is available off Castle Hayne Road; entry to the festival is free. Cash only is accepted for purchase of food, games, beers, raffle tickets, and gift items.
St. Stan’s Polish Festival
4849 Castle Hayne Rd.
Sat., November 1, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.