For most people, the 11th annual St. John's Mexican Fiesta will begin at 5 p.m. next Saturday.
But for about a dozen parishioners at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, the fiesta has been going on since February, when they began preparing the south-of-the-border food that draws people to the fiesta in droves.
Meanwhile, other volunteers have been busy with such tasks as booking bands and preparing the wooden "props" for the many games to be found at the fiesta.
Loretta Chavez, food chairperson for the fiesta, said the cooks' first task about four months ago was to make the white flour tortillas for the burritos. The tortillas are kept frozen, as are any other items that are prepared in advance.
Despite the work done months and weeks ahead of time, Chavez said she and a dozen or so other food volunteers will have plenty to do in the coming week.
THE COOKS will spend Monday preparing 24 gallons of hot sauce. Tuesday has been set aside for cooking the 75-100 pounds of potatoes to be used in the enchiladas. And on Friday, the cooks will be busy grating cheese and preparing lettuce for use in the dishes.
The women will still be busy on Saturday, making tamales from about 6 a.m. to noon and preparing the rest of the food until the food booths open at 5 p.m.
All together, the women will make 1,500 each of tamales, tostadas, enchiladas, tacos and burritos. They also will prepare 40 pounds of Mexican rice.
Chavez, who has been involved with the fiesta since it began, said that while preparing the food is a lot of work, it's a lot of fun too.
"We get to visit and have a good time while we're working," she said.
Bert Bermudez, another cook, said, "We just turn on our Mexican music and work away."
BOTH BERMUDEZ and Chavez are among the 75 to 100 families of Mexican descent who attend services at St. John's. Bermudez said some traditional family cooking practices are used in preparing the fiesta food.
"You get to talking and you say, `Well, my mother used to do it like this,'" Bermudez said. "Then someone else will say, `Well, my mother always did it like this.'"
Regardless of exactly which recipe is used, Bermudez said the key is that "it really is everybody working together."
Chavez said the Mexican food usually is sold out by 9:30 p.m., but the fun at the fiesta doesn't end there.
Pardize, a Topeka band, will be playing Mexican music and other varieties from 8 p.m. to midnight. Los Domingos, a local children's group, and Rose Marie Fiesta Mexicana, a group from Kansas City, will perform traditional Mexican dances in colorful Mexican costumes from 6:15 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
THERE ALSO will be several games, including a basketball shoot, a dart throw and an inflated moonwalk. Another popular item for the young crowd is an object called a confetti egg. Simply an egg shell filled with confetti, many children seem drawn to mashing them on their friends' heads.
Buddy Langford, a member of the fiesta committee, said several volunteers have been working to prepare the wooden props for the games. That involves repainting and repairing props from past years and constructing new ones.
Other preparations include setting up a stage for the band, setting up tables for eating and stringing lights across the St. John School lot at 1208 Ky., which is where the fiesta will be held. About 150 volunteers will help out with the fiesta on the day of the event.
LANGFORD said between $10,000 and $14,000 usually is raised for the church's general fund through the fiesta. Some of the proceeds go to the budget of St. John School.
Langford said the fund raiser now means so much in terms of providing fellowship for the community that "money's somewhat secondary. That's not the primary objective anymore."
If having a good time is a main goal, then the people who have worked so hard to put the fiesta together should have access to the fun as well, Langford said. That's one reason Ruben Ramos and the Texas Revolution, an Austin band brought in by St. John's, performed Friday night.
Langford said it wouldn't make much sense for the band to perform the Friday just before the fiesta.
"Some of the women have to get up at 5 o'clock the next morning to start getting the food ready," he said.
Bermudez said the event started out as a modest "mini-fiesta" fund-raiser to help fund a new parish, Corpus Christi, in west Lawrence.
"That first year, we really didn't know what we were doing or how many people would even come," Bermudez said.
But Chavez said the preparations now run like clockwork. And, she said, the one group of people really needed to make the fiesta a success has never let St. John's down.
"The Lawrence community has been very supportive," she said.