PITTSTON — Emma Rose Hadley had only one thing on her mind when she attended the Pittston Tomato Festival Parade Saturday — candy!
The 3-year-old from Pittston jumped up and down with a huge smile and a lot of laughs, hoping for whatever sweet treat she could get.
Her mom, Stacey, said this was her daughter’s third parade and her behavior was a normal occurrence for the annual event.
“She loves parades,” Stacey said. “Clearly, I don’t feed her a lot of candy which is why she’s so hyper right now.”
Emma was one of thousands of people who came from near and far to attend the 34th annual Pittston Tomato Festival Parade, and the city’s main street was filled with red and green to emulate the tomato colors.
Former city mayor and Tomato Festival Committee member Michael Lombardo said the turnout was about as big as he had expected.
“I think it’s been great,” he said. “The parade is excellent and I think we have another good year in terms of turnout. A bunch of different businesses and organizations from the around northeast are represented.”
Two well-known faces in the parade this year were Honorary Grand Marshal State Governor Tom Wolf and Grand Marshal Jimmy Cefalo, a former Pittston Area athlete and Miami Dolphins football player.
Wolf is no stranger to Pittston, as his northeast regional office is located on Main Street, but this was his first time partaking in the annual parade and being part of the festival. He felt great hospitality from city residents shaking his hand and welcoming him.
“Every time I’ve been here, everybody’s been really nice,” he said.
For Cefalo, who currently resides in Miami, Florida, this was only the second time he’s been to the Tomato Festival. He said the difference between this year and his last time at the event is the change within the city.
“The biggest change is the town,” he said. “This town is a postcard for what America should be. You look around and they’re painting this, they’re fixing that, new business and new industries are coming to town. They’re bringing new jobs and new industries to town. If you would’ve seen this town 30 years ago, it didn’t look like this. Now, every storefront is filled, it’s clean, the artwork has brought a lot of people to town and I think that’s the biggest change.”
Former and current city residents weren’t the only ones enjoying the fun, as people with no ties to Greater Pittston came to enjoy the fun.
Alyssa Hager and her boyfriend, Adam Campbell, both from Pottsville, said this is their fourth year attending the Tomato Festival. The couple donned custom-made shirts to celebrate the upcoming arrival of their baby girl.
Hager’s shirt had a picture of a tomato on the front, with the text “Future tomato fighter” above it.
They heard about the festival through family friend, Lori Epler, from Little Gap, who said she heard of the festival 10 years ago.
“I was just watching the news and heard about it,” she said. “It sounded like fun and I’m Italian and thought ‘I can’t miss it!’”
Campbell was gearing to participate in the Tomato Fights for the fourth time and said it’s his favorite part about the event because, “Who doesn’t love throwing a tomato at someone?”
With the 34th annual parade now in the books, Lombardo said the committee is looking to make additions to the event to keep entertainment running smoothly, particularly by finishing a small band stage by the Tomato Festival building and perhaps adding a third stage in the Pittston Memorial Library parking lot.
He also mentioned adding more events at the fire department building.
“It’s our objective next year to have the stage next to the building finished and to have the upper level in play,” he said. “The upper level of the fire station, I’m hoping we have Bingo in there or we have another music venue in there. The reason we would do that is on a hot day like today, it’d be a great opportunity for some of our seniors to get in and out of the sun.”
With one year to go until the next event, Lombardo said the committee has a full to-do list to accomplish these tasks.
“The committee better be ready to be challenged and pushed to the wall,” he said.
Reach Jimmy Fisher at 570-704-3972 or on Twitter @SD_JimmyFisher