The Greek Festival has drawn thousands to the N.C. State Fairgrounds for more than 30 years, but things aren’t quite as cramped as they were in the past.
The festival started in 1982 in the 20,000-square-foot Kerr Scott Building until its growing popularity saw it move to the 50,000-square-foot Exposition Center. For the second year in a row, the festival is at the 95,000-square-foot Jim Graham Building, allowing greater comfort for the more than 15,000 people expected to come to the three-day event.
“It’s just so much easier to get around in than the Expo Center,” Frances Mathes, volunteer coordinator for the festival, said Saturday. “You don’t have to look around now for a seat.”
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Raleigh, which is holding its 34th annual Greek Festival through Sunday, has taken advantage of the additional space for features such as more tables for diners and an activity area for children.
The festival began as a way to promote Greek culture and to raise money for the church. Now more than 200 volunteers from the parish work to pull off the festival so that a portion of the proceeds will go to Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, which builds affordable homes that are sold to families at no profit.
The festival raised $14,000 for Habit for Humanity last year and $175,000 over the years for the nonprofit group, according to Jason Kekas, the festival’s coordinator.
“The community has given so much to us over the years that we wanted to give something back,” Kekas said.
For many who attend the three-day festival, the food remains the big draw. Traditional Greek dishes such as moussaka, gyros, spanakopita and baklava are mixed with newer offerings such as grilled calamari.
“There’s nowhere else where you can sit and enjoy great music and dancing while enjoying great Greek food,” said Monica Inzaina of Fuquay-Varina, who came Saturday with her husband and two daughters.
Inzaina also bought a dress for her 7-year-old daughter, Tori, in the marketplace area.
Among the vendors in the marketplace was Panagia Prousiotissa Greek Orthodox Monastery located in Troy in Montgomery County. The monastery is selling handmade items such as jams, stone icons and candles.
“We live on donations, so we make these items to sell,” said Abbess Agne of the monastery. “These good people wanted us to be here.”
The festival attracts far more than people with a Greek background. Tony Littlejohn of Cary said he came because he was impressed with the resilience of the Greek people when he was a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy stationed in Crete in the early 2000s.
“I enjoy Greek culture and all that it stands for,” Littlejohn said. “Their history is phenomenal.”
Resilience is something that Greece has needed over the past year as the people react to a $97.4 billion bailout deal that includes deep spending cuts as the financially-strapped country deals with tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa. National elections will be held Sept. 20.
“It’s sad what’s going on there,” said Kekas, the festival coordinator. “But we try not to get involved with politics.”
The Greek Festival continues Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Jim Graham Building at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. For more information, got to greekfestivalraleigh.com.