Thousands get their Greek on at popular festival
Sept. 11--STOCKTON -- Members of St. Basil Greek Orthodox Church continue to put on perhaps the best ethnic/cultural/food festival in Stockton. It could be because the church just held its 58th Greek Festival over the weekend, one of the longest-running annual events in the city.
Sure, experience counts, but the people behind the scenes -- the volunteers -- all say pretty much the same thing about why 10,000 to 12,000 Stocktonians come back every year.
It's the food -- fresh, high quality, wide variety, and lots of it.
It's the people -- friendly, outgoing, loads of personality.
It's the church.
"We do it for the church, not for ourselves. We put the church and everybody else first," said Bill Panagopoolos, one of three close friends who have organized Frank, Bill Nick's Roasted Lamb Pork food booth for the past quarter-century.
Terri Blum, who coordinates St. Basil's outreach and evangelism efforts, said the church is opening itself up more to visitors and gaining new parishioners all the time. It truly remains at the heart of the festival, that in addition to food it also provides unique entertainment such as Greek folk dancers and live Greek music.
New this year were tours of the church itself, which features handcrafted mosaics created by the same family in Italy that has done that work for 700 years, Blum said.
"We had several tours of the church and they were very well attended," Blum said.
When the festival first opened up Friday afternoon, the line for sweets, breads and pastries quickly stretched out the front doors of the community hall, said Gayle Maduros, a church member on the festival organizing committee who has spent the past 20 years helming the ultra-popular Greek pastry shop.
By Saturday afternoon, the almond baklava had sold out. A few hours later, so had the galactobouriko (custard pie) and kourambiedes (butter cookies with almonds). But there were plenty of tasty treats left to choose from, such as the traditional walnut baklava.
"We have fun making things together," Maduros said, explaining that some of the food prep begins as early as May with the harvesting of tender grape leaves.
The work gets serious about two to three weeks before the festival begins. Labor Day, always the Monday before the festival, is known as "Baklava Day," when 40 to 45 volunteers get together with "cases and cases of sweet butter to create the rich, sweet pastry made from phyllo filled with chopped nuts and honey.
"We pride ourselves on what we do," Maduros said, ever vigilant about quality control.
That's what it takes to keep them coming back.
Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at recordnet.com/goldeenblog and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.