INDEPENDENCE — Hope Macaluso did more than just reign as queen at the Sicilian Heritage Festival March 8-March 10.

She also participated in the spaghetti-eating contest and joined the New Orleans-based band Bag of Donuts on stage during their performance Saturday evening.

Macaluso said her Sicilian Heritage Festival title is something special for both her and her family.

“Independence is unique,” Macaluso said. “It’s all about the community heritage. Everybody here is from here.”

The fifth annual Independence Sicilian Heritage Festival was a three-day affair that began Friday with a spaghetti cook-off, at which politicians and others competed to impress judges by cooking their family’s own, unique spaghetti sauce recipes, some of which had been passed down for generations.

“Sicilians settled in Independence because of the rich farmland,” said Robin Abrams, chairman of The Independence Sicilian Heritage Board.

Sicilian families, who left their homes in Sicily during the 1880s, were attracted to Independence because of the thriving strawberry industry and the train depot the town provided them, Abrams said.

The city’s land gave Sicilians employment in produce farming and the ability to sell their produce easily because of the train depot, she said

“Our grand marshal this year is Joe Liuzza, who has the biggest produce farm in Louisiana,” Abrams added.

Liuzza and his family grow produce in Independence and throughout the United States, she said.

Beverly Stout, who was a secretary for more than 34 years at Mater Dolorosa School and the school’s madre, said, “They say I play the mother role in so many children’s lives.”

Stout said it is always such a great feeling to see children who went to the school, including ones she hasn’t seen in years, come back to the festival.

Sisters Robbie Piazza and Rebecca Piazza bring their children back each year to reconnect with their heritage.

“We want our kids to do what we did as kids,” Robbie Piazza said.

In addition, many charitable organizations and school booster clubs, including Loranger High School’s Band Booster Club, see this festival as an opportunity to join in on the Sicilian heritage by selling traditional Sicilian cuisine, such as spumoni and muffaletas, to raise funds for their programs.

The three-day festival is held to honor the deep Sicilian heritage in the town of Independence, Abrams said.

The festival ended Sunday following the performance of country band, Todd O’Neill.