By Ron Matz

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—It’s one of the biggest community events of the year in Baltimore, and it happens this weekend in Little Italy.

Ron Matz reports the St. Gabriel Festival is all about food, fun, family and friendship.

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The booths and banners are up. It’s time to grab a cannoli or a pizzelle. Thousands are expected in Little Italy for the annual St. Gabriel Festival.

“We’re having our 83rd St. Gabriel Festival Saturday and Sunday from noon til 8 p.m. We’re encouraging everyone to come down to Little Italy. It’s all about family. It’s all about fun, and it’s about the food,” said Dominic Pompa, St. Gabriel Society president.

When they say food here, they mean it.

“We’ll have pit beef, pit ham, pit turkey, the porquetta sandwich, Italian sausage, pizza, chicken parmesan, fried dough, calzone,” said Sue Corasaniti, volunteer coordinator. “You name it, we’ll have it.”

Two hundred volunteers will help dish it out.

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“We probably have 200 to 250 volunteers. Some of the volunteers have been coming for years. They live in the neighborhood. Then you have a lot of new people, which is really good this year,” Corasaniti said. “The volunteers work different stands. They cook. They serve beer. They do whatever we need doing. It’s all volunteers, and they come with a great attitude. No one gets paid.”

Dino Basso is the bocce master.  They’ll be big tournaments all weekend.

And then “on Sunday after the 9:30 a.m. Mass we’re going to have a procession through the streets of Little Italy, we’ll carry the statue of St. Gabriel as we always have for the past 83 years,” Pompa said.

Something new at the festival this year is the Roma Sausage Eating Contest.

The festival benefits the historic St. Leo’s Church, where this saint holds a special meaning to many who live in this beloved Baltimore neighborhood.

“Father Sal is a pretty special guy so we gave St. Leo’s four VIP tickets on turn one,” Tim Mayer, general manager of the Grand Prix of Baltimore. “It’s going to be a great race, but we want him to be able to give that away and enjoy it with St. Leo’s at the St. Gabriel Festival. It’s gonna be a great time.”

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The St. Gabriel Festival is Saturday and Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday’s activities include a special Mass at St. Leo’s and a procession through the streets of Little Italy.