Thousands of Fresno area residents and visitors made their way to east central Fresno last weekend to enjoy authentic food and fun at the 57th annual Fresno Greek Fest.
An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people endured the heat to feast on more than 8,000 dolmades, 6,000 koulourakia, 5,000 paximadia and other large batches of scratch-made Greek appetizers, entrees and pastries.
Altogether, Greek Festival Chairman Peter Vallis said it took an army of volunteers—around 1,000—and a vat of butter (at least 1,600 pounds), rice (500 pounds), ground beef (600 pounds), filo dough (400 pounds), and feta cheese and yogurt (1,000 pounds) to put on the event and give locals the Greek flavors they crave. My favorite dish was dessert: flaky nut-filled baklavia, dripping with honey.
With the event growing each year, some may wonder why it’s never moved from the beautiful St. George Greek Orthodox Church, situated on five acres tucked behind the Fresno Art Museum, to a bigger venue. Vallis said the reason is simple: the church strives to serve the east central Fresno community.
“Part of it is we have the facility to do it. We have the kitchen and everything and people like seeing the church,” Vallis said. “But this is also an important event for this part of town because a lot of people in the Valley and in Fresno don’t come to this part of town. We do a lot of good work and help the community of east central Fresno and this is important for the neighborhood. Our neighbors love it! It helps them and it exposes people to getting south of Shaw.”
While the festival itself is run like a business, with much of the proceeds of food sales going back to the church, Vallis said the church also emphasizes giving back to various organizations in the area, many of which had booths set up over the weekend. This “giving back” mentality was evident from the gate, where canned food items were being accepted in lieu of admission to Greek Fest—every can got you a dollar off your ticket, so you could get in free with six cans. This canned food, Vallis said, will go toward replenishing the neighborhood’s food pantry, which is operated by the church.
“We’ve got homeless people everywhere and they are hungry, so we have the pantry and it’s just part of our good neighbor policy,” Vallis said.
While food was the focus of the event—whether it was being consumed in vast quantities by attendees or being donated can after can at the entrance—the Greek Fest also supplied authentic Greek entertainment. Not only were there church tours, Greek dancing, and performances by the church choir, but one band, the HoHLax Trio, traveled all the way from Athens to entertain.
Despite the August heat wave, Vallis said this year’s Greek Fest was as successful as ever, if not more so.
“At this point, this is the largest Greek festival in California,” he said. “I think that’s a testament to Fresno. When you put on a good thing and make it easy for people, they are going to show up.”
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