SPRING HILL — Food specialties from both the Eastern and Western hemispheres — from snacks to entrees to desserts — will be dished up at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church's annual Ethnic Festival, which begins a four-day run Oct. 20 on the 18-acre church grounds.
Carnival rides, stage acts, a second-hand market and mini raffle will augment tastes from around the world at the festival, which last year attracted some 25,000 visitors and this year marks its 25th year.
Chairman Paul D'Aquisto marvels over the festival's growth. He remembers the first gathering.
"We had all different nationalities in the church, so we had a little party one night on the church grounds, and everybody brought their own dish," D'Aquisto said.
About 20 people attended.
"Then we decided to do it with a festival," said D'Aquisto, 76 and of Italian heritage, "and it kept mushrooming and mushrooming and mushrooming."
Food booths will fill a 100-foot strip under tent. Gastronomic representations will include: stuffed cabbages and pirogis from Germany, sausage and peppers from Italy, gyros from Greece, corned beef from Ireland, french fries claimed by France and Belgium, Cuban sandwiches from Cuba and turkey legs from America.
Regional offerings consist of fried chicken strips from the American South, funnel cakes from Pennsylvania Dutch country, hamburgers claimed by Boston and New Haven, Conn., and hot dogs, whose source is much debated.
Paul Stegner, filling the chef's role for the first time, is overseeing food preparation in the church's commercial kitchen.
"It got too big for individuals bringing their dishes from home," D'Aquisto said.
Volunteers will finish cooking in their booths to ensure freshly made servings.
"You get a good meal for what we serve, a whole dinner for $6 or $7," D'Aquisto said.
Seating and takeout will be provided.
Carnival rides, added to the festival about 10 years ago, "kept us growing and growing," the chairman said. All for Fun Enterprises of Tampa, in its 10th year the provider, will repeat its kiddie sector attractions and add more rides favored by older youths this year, D'Aquisto said.
"I don't know the names of all of them," he noted, "but some of them scare me to death."
Musical performances, from vocalists and instrumentalists to karaoke, will take the stage each evening, with local dance studios and high school groups joining them. The afternoon of Oct. 23 will feature professional acts, a magician, a balloon sculptor and an Elsa impersonator from the Disney hit Frozen, who will pose for photos with children.
In the mini raffle, with $1 tickets, a 32-inch flat-screen TV tops the list of prizes, which also includes gift cards for local retailers, toys and games.
The Second-Hand Rose shop, inside the air-conditioned church and a major draw at last year's festival, will feature books, crafts, jewelry and clothing.
The festival has become "absolutely" the biggest annual fundraiser for the parish, said D'Aquisto. "Once the bills are paid, the remainder goes to the church," he said.
Last year, that amounted to some $25,000.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]