St Joe Picnic
The St. Joe’s Picnic for the Kids is in its 170th year. | Courtesy of Eggplant Photography

Live music, carnival rides, gambling tents, food and games — each summer for the last 170 years, the St. Joe’s Picnic has brought fun for a weekend in August. But the picnic is much more than a neighborhood event.

The full name of the two-day picnic is St. Joe’s Picnic for the Kids, and the “for the kids” descriptor is the most important aspect of the event. It’s a time where, yes, games can be played and ice cream enjoyed, but sometimes what’s lost in the revelry is that an abused or neglected child may find a new home. This year’s fest will be held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 9-10.

For St. Joseph’s Children’s Home, the picnic is the one fundraiser for the year — it’s an all-in affair. The nonprofit organization’s roots trace back to the cholera epidemic in Louisville in the 1930s, which left many children orphaned. In response, a group of German-American Catholics created the St. Joseph Catholic Orphan Society in 1849.

The first home was built the following year, and the rising number of children in need through the century resulted in the organization settling into its current site in Crescent Hill, where the St. Joe’s Picnic is held, in 1885.

And while the form of St. Joe’s Picnic has evolved, the mission remains quite similar: to help children in need. This is why the picnic — for the kids — is so important, and many don’t realize that it sometimes works as more than just a fundraiser where attendees can get a fried chicken dinner.

St Joe Picnic
Games are played and sometimes lives are changed. | Courtesy of Eggplant Photography

Several years ago, Valerie and Greg Buccola visited the picnic and met a St. Joe representative at an adoption booth. They had no plans to foster children — but they had always hoped to start a family of their own.

They now have adopted four children and continue to foster several others.

“I was relieved that the wait was finally over, and our family felt complete and real,” Greg Buccola told a St. Joseph representative. “They’re our babies now. Never did I know I could love like this.”

“When you save a child’s life,” Valerie Buccola said, “there is no price tag you can put on that.”

Some of the children the Buccolas have adopted shared similar sentiments.

“I loved my adoption day,” 7-year-old Jake said. “I was happy that I moved to a nicer and better family. I got a red bear on adoption day. That made me happy.”

“I was happy on adoption day because I wanted a family that loves me,” said Sophia, 8. “I was excited, because I love my mom and dad.”

These are the people who will benefit with every card dealt, every toss of the annual cornhole tournament, every piece of fried chicken consumed. Not surprisingly, the St. Joe’s Picnic for the Kids is an annual tradition for many Louisville families.

“We have families who in their lineage have been supporting St. Joe’s Picnic for seven generations,” St. Joseph’s CEO Grace K. Akers told Insider. “We hear stories of kids saving their coins all year long because they understand what it means to give to St Joe’s children.”

Akers said in the past 30 months, 65 children have been adopted through St. Joseph’s Children’s home after having been taken from their parents because of abuse or neglect.

“Our St. Joe’s kids have some things in common, and one of them is that they are all survivors of child trauma,” Akers said. “This means that our St. Joe’s children are among the most vulnerable kids in Kentucky. At St. Joe’s, we believe that this cannot be the end of a child’s story. It’s up to all of us to change their ending.”

The picnic, at 2823 Frankfort Ave., begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 9, and includes live music from the Louisville Crashers, the annual St. Joe’s Cornhole Tournament and a celebrity dunk tank. And Saturday, Aug. 10, it opens at noon and will feature fried chicken dinners, St. Patrick’s Cake Booth, plenty of booths and games, plus live music by Rear View Mirror.

Gambling tents, arts and crafts and raffle booths, the dunk tank, a glitter booth and more will be open both days. All activities are ticketed, and tickets are $1 each. Tickets can be purchased at the festival or in advance online, with discounts available on multiple tickets when purchased in advance. Most activities require two to six tickets each. All proceeds benefit St. Joseph’s Children’s Home.

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]