EAST MANATEE -- It was midday Monday and trucks were moving through the St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church parking lot like ants over a grassy hill.
A dozen or so men were piecing together a massive tent, adjacent to an already standing tent, wide enough to host a 100-guest wedding.
Inside the church, people were entering and exiting from every angle, boxes upon boxes were stacked on tables reaching halfway to the ceiling. Amid the chaos, voices were cheerful and joyous and the aroma coming from the kitchen was heavenly.
In just two days, the area will be filled with people from Manatee and Sarasota counties. It’s Glendi time, and the folks who help organize the annual Greek festival are busy preparing for the 18,000 expected to attend the four-day event which begins Thursday. Preparation began as early as September and the amount of effort it takes to put on the festival is equivalent to running a carnival, restaurant and flea market at once, organizers said.
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“We have a reputation to uphold,” said Chairperson Denise Chimbos, who is leading her sixth Greek Glendi.
Starting with an opening ceremony at 11 a.m. Thursday, the four-day event, now in its 28th year, will offer authentic Greek food and beverages, a market place, live music, Hellenic folk dancers, tours of the church and a children’s adventure zone, featuring rock climbing, bungee trampoline and a bounce house. Attendees also will have an opportunity to win a new car if they purchase any of the 1,500 raffle tickets on sale for a 2012 Acura and 2012 Toyota Camry.
The event attracts people of all ages and backgrounds. Eighty one-year-old Steve Karajan has attended Greek Glendi every year for more than 20 years. Each year, he volunteers at the beverage bar.
“My pleasure is to see the people,” he said.
What started as a one-day festival to help raise money for a new church has become an extravagant cultural experience.
“It’s phenomenal,” said 47-year-old Nick Choueiri, who has attended and helped organize the event since 1987. “We have to park cars everywhere. We park 1,200 cars a year. Back then we were lucky to get 50-60 cars.”
The first festival in 1984 offered just a few tents on a vacant lot. By 1992, organizers had raised enough money to build their church.
“For the last 28 years we’ve been entertaining Sarasota and Manatee County plus visitors from the surrounding areas that come for our food, our music, to watch our Hellenic dancers, our church tours, pastries ... it’s just a fun time for the whole family,” Chimbos said. “There’s something here for everyone.”
Nick Williams, Herald writer, can be reached at (941) 748-0411 ext. 7049. Tweet: @_1NickWilliams