Hundreds of local residents gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish on Friday for one of the oldest and most festive traditions of Santa Barbara’s Old Spanish Days Fiesta: Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercado, a free community event that serves up a wide array of authentic Mexican cuisine and Spanish dance performances throughout the weekend.
What makes this mercado different from all the others is that all the proceeds from food, drink, and other vendors goes directly back into the general maintenance, up-keep, and service of the church at 227 N. Nopal St.
According to Mariana Contreras, a local resident and parishioner, all the proceeds from a yearly raffle held by the church are considered a big source of income for the parish, with prizes ranging from $5,000 to $1,000 in cash.
America Chavez, who has been working with the gaming booths for the mercado for more than 18 years, says her sense of volunteerism comes from her long-time experience with Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish.
“I have been going to this church since I was born, I was baptized and everything here,” Chavez said. “It’s lots of fun helping the church and the community, especially since I still live in the area.”
Long-time resident, parishioner and volunteer Josephine Garcia also described how numerous church volunteers and vendor operators had their hands anointed by priests the previous night, as well as their booths blessed, in service to the parish.
While working the “White Elephant” tent, a makeshift marketplace in which church volunteers help sell goods such as dishware, jewelry and unused clothing donated by other local residents and parishioners, Garcia described the prices for such goods as “reasonably low” due to local donations.
“We’re not Montecito, we don’t have Montecito prices,” stated Garcia. “These are local prices for local people, everything here people have donated, and some things are very valuable.”
Garcia, who used to clean the church in the late 1950s while living just around the corner, also spoke to the close sense of community and familial ties church members share with one another, particularly during the Mercado event.
“There are no outsiders or people from out of town who work the booths, all of them are local people, parishioners,” Garcia said. “We’re one big family.”