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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Greek food, heritage, religion draw crowds to Tampa festival

John Demas serenades the crowd with the bouzouki  at the St. John The Baptist Greek Orthodox Church festival.  The Glendi Dancers, made up of middle and high schoolers, perform Saturday at the St. John The Baptist Greek Orthodox Church festival.

SOUTH TAMPA — Mary Nenos was one of the first members of St. John Greek Orthodox Church when it was founded in 1956.
She was president of the women’s group that put on the first annual Tampa Greek Festival, in its 33rd year this weekend, so she has seen the festival evolve.


“It keeps growing bigger and bigger,” she said about the festival this afternoon, while she was manning the table selling religious icons and trinkets. The table was in a corner of the main parish hall, where the aroma of Greek meatballs, simmered lamb and pastitsio — a Greek lasagna — filled the air.

“It’s for our culture,” Nenos said over the music. “Us working together like this, we have more fellowship.”
The Tampa Greek Festival, which began Friday and runs through Sunday, is a way for the parish to teach people in the community about Greek culture and the orthodox faith, said JoAnn Hartung, one of this year’s organizers. She estimated it attracts almost 6,000 people a day.

 - Elisa Mitseas, age 6, eats a spanakopita, a spinach pie, at the St. John The Baptist Greek Orthodox Church festival. 

“We’ve always had a good turnout,” said Speros Georgiou, a parish member who has been volunteering at the festival since it started in the 1980s. “It’s been a success for the community and a success for the church.”
Vendors set up booths selling jewelry, art and handbags. For the kids, there are games, inflatable bounce houses and face-painting booths. People also can take a tour of the church, led by one of the parish leaders, and learn the history of the Greek Orthodox Church.

But the real attraction, and the one with the longest lines, is the homemade food, volunteers say.
“I can see what number one is,” said Claire Scalzi, who came from Palm Harbor to explore the festival. “That’s the food.”
Nenos said volunteers prepare the food throughout the week. They pre-made more than 12,000 dolmathes — stuffed grape leaves — and more than 10,000 koulourakia cookies.

Today, people were piling their plates high with food while different groups performed traditional Greek dances in the center of the room.
“The food has been amazing, and the dancing and the music is really good,” said Joseph Booth, who was at the festival with his wife, Laura. “We’re having a great time.”

The Tampa Greek Festival continues Sunday at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 2418 W Swann Ave., from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $2, but free for children under age 12 and for military members and their families.

For more information, go to www.tampagreekfestival.com.
Ebehrman@Tampatrib.com
(813)259-7691
Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO

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