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Expanded Greek Festival will include plenty of food, and a lot more

Festivalgoers hold hands while dancing to the music of Demetri and the Islanders during the 2013 Greek Festival.
Festivalgoers hold hands while dancing to the music of Demetri and the Islanders during the 2013 Greek Festival.
Published Feb. 5, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — "Opa!"

The Greek exclamation is used with feeling and emotion. People say it when they are happy or excited. Or when tasting a delicious dish. Or just when they are feeling free and glad to be alive.

Combine "Opa!" with the smashing of a few plates, and you have a Greek celebration.

The expression, no doubt, will be used a few times this weekend, starting today, when the fifth annual Greek Festival returns to the Hernando County Fairgrounds, featuring plenty of laughter, singing, dancing and Greek delicacies.

Hosted by Christ the Savior Greek Orthodox Church, this year's indoor event has been extended from two days to three, which will allow for returning favorites and some new additions.

"One of our main events this year will be the Opa Challenge," festival director Emily Thomas said. "Like the Greek smashing of dishes, we are going to smash hunger."

The Opa Challenge, from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Sunday, will include volunteers who will put together 10,000 food packages to be given to Jericho Road Ministries to help feed local children in need and their families.

"One in four children go to bed hungry," Thomas said. "So I am so pleased and proud that our little church can do this."

Thomas said additional volunteers are welcome. Details are available online at opachallenge.com.

Entertainment will include Demitri Kousathanas of Demetri and the Islanders Band, who will entertain both Friday and Saturday. The Islanders Band (without Demitri) will entertain on Sunday. Other entertainment throughout the weekend will include student dancers from Chocachatti Elementary School, Shazadi and the Jewels of the Desert (belly dancers), traditional Greek folk dancing with the youth and adult Joy Dancers at Christ the Savior, the Suncoast Harmony Chorus, We Are the Children and a skit and dance show with the Greek School Drop Outs.

Visitors will have an opportunity to dine on a variety of Greek cuisine, prepared by event sponsor Greek City Cafe. There will be favorites such as gyros, spanakopita and moussaka, plus pastries such as baklava and diples. New to this year's menu are dolmades, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice and herbs, and feta fries.

"We've had so many requests for (dolmades)," Thomas said. "So I am sure people will be pleased."

The weekend will include a variety of games, contests, cooking demonstrations and door prizes. The Toga Fun Run will be at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. There will also be a larger, expanded children's fun zone with a variety of free activities such as balloons, face painting and children's games. A rock climbing wall and bungee rides will be offered for a minimal cost.

A portion of this year's proceeds will benefit the United Way of Hernando County, which has partnered to help with the event.

"We are so happy to team up with United Way," Thomas said. "They stand for so much in the community that I love."

The partner arrangement is one that United Way officials are equally excited about.

"We are very happy to be a part of (the festival)," said Angie Bonfardino, executive director of United Way of Hernando County.

While her small staff of three people will jump right in and help out with the event, including the Opa Challenge, Bonfardino said they have also been recruiting volunteers to help in various capacities.

"Everyone has been really supportive," she said.

Bonfardino said the partnership will promote more awareness of the nonprofit organization.

"Many people don't realize that when you give to United Way (of Hernando), it stays in Hernando County," Bonfardino said. "It's all about keeping it local."

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