PITTSTON — Hot temperatures didn’t stop the crowd from having some fun as the 33rd Annual Pittston Tomato Festival kicked into high gear on Saturday.
Thousands gathered along Main Street to watch the annual Miles for Michael 5k Run/Walk with the parade following right after.
Megan Bartuska-Landato turned the four-day event into a family affair.
The Avoca resident spent the Saturday with her husband Raymond Landato and daughter Sophia, 5. Bartuska-Landato’s sister-in-law Alana Bartuska, of Pittston Township, and her daughter Shae, 1, joined in on the impromptu reunion.
“I think it’s great,” said Bartuska-Landato of the festival. “It’s definitely great for the community.”
According to former Pittston mayor and Tomato Festival committee member Michael Lombardo, the parade ran smoother than ever this year.
He credited the city police and street department for keeping Main Street vehicle-free for the event.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “The weather is cooperating, I know the race was great and it’s really been the easiest parade we’ve done so far. The street department and my cousin Mike (Lombardo) did an awesome job getting the parade route ready and the race route ready. I think this is the smoothest festival we’ve had so far.”
Lombardo said the addition of the Tomato Festival building, used by committee members to sell Tomato Festival merchandise and store vendor equipment, was also a big help to the festival this year.
He said the committee has saved hours of time not having to worry about setting up a booth, taking it down and storing merchandise every day of the festival.
The building has also opened up room in the lot for food vendors.
“It’s allowed us to push farther back and be less congested up on the upper lot,” said Lombardo. “We’re able to take the center tents, line them up and square it off as opposed to the angle we had before.”
The Tomato Festival mascot was a new addition to the festival. The big red plush tomato will be named through a contest on the committee’s Facebook page.
“We’ve been talking about a mascot and we’ve spent money in the last two years investing in the new building and in the lot, as well as the non-profit things we do,” Lombardo said. “We wanted to make it a priority to get this mascot… I think it’s a lot of fun and it takes things to the next level.”
Guests came from far and wide to be part of the annual event, including Lt. Gov. Michael Stack who marched in the parade alongside Lombardo.
Lombardo said Stack hopes to be back next year and participate in the Miles for Michael race.
“We consider the lieutenant governor a great friend,” said Lombardo. “It was great having him here and have him to be able to talk to people on the street. We’re hoping to maybe get him back for Paint Pittston Pink next month in October. He wanted to run the run and do the fight, but he had a little bit of a conflict in his schedule, but he hopes to do the run next year and then be in the parade.”
With the festival half way done, Lombardo said the committee is already planning for next year.
“We’re going to jump the third tier up behind the Pittston Memorial Library and create a section up there for the younger people of the community,” he said. “Our dream is always been to bring another bandshell in and book some bands that some of the younger people want to hear and move some of the rides and things up there.”
The Tomato Festival concludes at 9 p.m. Sunday.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher