Sunday, November 19, 2017
News Roundup

SPIFFS relies on younger generation

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ST. PETERSBURG

For 22-year-old Stamatios "T.K." Kapous II, the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society has always held a special place in his family's life.

The organization that traces its beginnings to America's bicentennial was led by his late grandfather for a decade. His father also took an interest in the group whose members trace and celebrate their connection to communities around the world.

Now Kapous is joining a younger generation that is helping to revive the once-vibrant organization known simply as SPIFFS. With backing from St. Stefanos Greek Orthodox Church — known for its annual festivals — Kapous is leading an effort to rebuild the Greek presence in the organization that at one time represented more than 50 countries.

"About two years ago, I went in front of the church board, but there wasn't really a big support then. This time has been great," said Kapous, general manager of Café Gala at the Dalí Museum.

With young people like Kapous involved, SPIFFS is undergoing a resurgence, executive director Lotta Baumann said. And that bodes well for this weekend's annual international festival at Vinoy Park that will feature a Grand Parade of Nations, with participants from more than 30 countries, and the swearing in of new American citizens.

The event will also showcase food and entertainment from across the world, including American Indian drummers and dancers, pipers and polka. The Greek booth will include educational material as well as favorite foods such as gyros, baklava and rice pudding, Kapous said.

Many recent SPIFFS members are newer immigrants, said Baumann, who returned as executive director last August, after leaving a then-flailing organization more than a dozen years ago. Some of the new groups are from Eastern European countries, such as Bulgaria and Hungary, Baumann said, adding that this year's event will also include representatives from countries such as Ethiopia, Cambodia, Japan and Serbia.

Many of the original groups dropped out because "the people were getting old and tired," she said. "Even my own Swedish Club is not participating anymore. It was always the same people doing the work. The Greeks were members from the beginning and they took a hiatus and now they are back. … Their board is also younger."

As a child, Kapous recalled, he had always been eager to attend the folk fair that had been so important to his grandfather, who was born in Greece.

"SPIFFS has meant a lot to me," the older Kapous said back in 1989. "Everybody came from someplace, you know, and it helps people remember the beautiful things their parents and grandparents brought to this country.

His grandson agrees: "There are still young people in the community that are willing to help and still proud of their heritage."

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.

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