NORTHFIELD — The chicken was way better than finger-licking good Sunday at the 49th annual chicken barbecue at St. Gianna Beretta Molla Parish.

More than 900 chickens sizzled on the grill pit behind the parish center. A team of volunteers led by Dino Giacona and Tom Holbeck kept the crew — which ranged in age from 9-year-old Anthony Compton, of Mays Landing, to 84-year-old John Fredrick, of Northfield — on task and having fun at the same time.

Volunteer Bob Warley said they follow a fairly simple rule that keeps the chefs from making a mistake:

“We always flip the grates by turning them toward the church. Turn to the church; it’s always the best direction,” said Warley.

They also spray the chickens to keep them moist while cooking. That is the job of young Anthony Compton, whose dad, Bob, said helping out at the barbecue has been a family tradition for decades. Bob Compton would never miss the chance to help make the annual event a success.

Holbeck said the annual dinner has turned into a great community-supported event as well as a major fundraiser for the parish. The money raised from the annual barbecue will go to the church’s general fund.

Volunteers made take-out boxes and filled plates high with chicken, fresh Jersey tomato salad, corn on the cob and potato salad. The real tough decision was what to choose for dessert.

Mary Ann Vergulte, Joanne Gabriel, Marlene Pontaro and other volunteers have been rolling up their sleeves and making sweet treats for the dessert table at the chicken barbecue at St. Gianna Beretta Molla, and St. Bernadette’s before that, for more than four decades and still have fun doing it.

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