EAST COUNTY — The thwack of knife to wood echoes off the walls of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, as an assembly line of Lebanese, Ukrainians, Russians and, yes, Greeks, chops 800 pounds of carrots.
Inside a foggy freezer out back sits 100 pans of moussaka, 80 pans of pastitsio (Greek lasagna), 1,200 half-chickens, 1,800 shish kabobs and 2,800 lamb shanks.
Somewhere, 91-year-old volunteer Olga Olenick prepares a salad.
This year, the 29th annual Greek Glendi, which opens Thursday, Feb. 7 and runs through Sunday, Feb. 10, will feature customs such as Greek folk dancing, church tours and live music by the Greek band ELLADA.
Festival-goers can also buy black and green olives, cheeses and Greek olive oil in the Bakaliko market; find jewelry and crafts in the Agora marketplace; and enjoy a climbing wall and bungee trampoline.
A raffle will occur Sunday night, before the festival’s closing. Winners can take home a 2013 Mercedes-Benz, $7,500 cash or a roundtrip to Greece for two.
But, most of the 18,000 patrons will come for the Greek cuisine made by Popi’s Place owner and Executive Chef Popi Ameres and her 300-plus volunteers.
Olenick, volunteer assistant manager of ushers at the Sarasota Opera House and overseer of the church coffee hour, makes a mean salad.
For the past 19 years, Olenick and her 99-year-old husband, John, have been a Glendi staple.
A church sexton, John Olenick, greets people in a worn black robe.
The Russian Orthodox couple used to be at the church every day of the week during Glendi season with Olenick perfecting her salad — light on the lettuce, heavy on olives with large chunks of cheese — until Denise Chimbos, the festival’s seventh-year chairwoman, told them to slow down.
Now, during Glendi preparation, Olenick only works Sundays, when she also helps close the church.
“Olga is a sweetheart,” Chimbos said. “I told her she is leaving at 4 p.m. during the festival, no questions asked. I said, ‘Olga, I’m getting you some help (for the salads). She said, ‘No, no’. Our volunteers’ persistence is what makes this event happen.”
Olenick doesn’t do slow.
She and her husband spent most of their lives in Manville, N.J., a manufacturing hub of mostly Ukrainian and Polish immigrants, where John Olenick supervised a tiling factory and Olenick worked at RCA.
When the couple moved to Sarasota, Olenick quickly became involved in the school district’s food department. She chopped bread and mixed salads in the cafeterias of local elementary schools. After her career ended, Olenick couldn’t help but stay active, volunteering at the Ringling Museum and donating money to animal shelters.
Though they’re not Greek, the Olenicks joined St. Barbara nearly 20 years ago, because it was the closest Orthodox church.
Now, the tie is much deeper. The friendships are tighter and the love stronger, a passion Olenick says she spreads to every one of the 8,000 salads she will make for the Glendi.
“Doing this keeps me young,” Olenick said. “I have no time to get old. I’m honored to contribute to the food here. There’s no food like the Glendi.”
Contact Josh Siegel at email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
29th Annual Greek Glendi
When: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 7 to Feb. 9; noon to 8 p.m. Feb. 10
Where: St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 7671 N. Lockwood Ridge Road
Cost: $4. Free for children under 12.
Info: 355-2616 or
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