SPRING HILL — What began as a friendly sit-down dinner has grown into a celebration the magnitude of which few parishioners at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church thought possible two decades years ago.
Back then, Hernando County didn't have a lot of community festivals. But church organizers knew one thing: People enjoy food. Couple that notion with the fact that Spring Hill is made up of residents from numerous ethnic backgrounds and you begin to see why the church's annual Ethnic Festival has become such a hit.
Over time, the simple potluck celebration turned into an affair that now draws upward of 20,000 people every year over the course of four days.
Tony Del Vecchio, who heads the event, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday, says the event's mass appeal has always centered on its family-style atmosphere.
"We like to say that we have at least something that everyone can enjoy, from the youngest to the oldest," Del Vecchio said. "Everybody who comes can find something fun and interesting to do."
Foodies will find an ethnic menu that includes homemade fare such as gyros, pizza, sausage with onions and peppers, bratwurst sandwiches, cannolis, cheesecakes and other treats.
For the younger crowd, there are more than two dozen carnival rides, skill games, plus live entertainment. And for those who like to do a little bargain hunting, there is an indoor flea market, known as Second Hand Rose, which will be open daily.
Although the festival has grown tremendously since its humble beginnings, Del Vecchio says it has retained the charm of a community .
"It's all about people helping each other out," he said. "We have a great group of volunteers that show up every year to help out. And you really can't beat that."
Proceeds from the event benefit the church and local charities.
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]