EAST COUNTY — After 28 years as a volunteer, Voula Karagan still manages to find happiness in pulling thousands of cookies out of plastic bags.
On Jan. 30, she focused on organizing an assortment of 12 types of cookies, delivered that morning, that still needed to be placed into 380 boxes.
For her, however, the more than eight-hour day of cookie arranging and packaging illustrates something more significant — an appreciation and celebration of her heritage.
Next to her, other women, most of whom are Greek, bark orders to each other in English-meets-Greek sentences, which echo off the walls of the normally quiet reception hall at St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church.
“We have beautiful comraderie,” Karagan says. “We laugh, and we work together.”
For the last few weeks, the white-walled room, normally empty and quiet, with the exception of coffee hours on Sundays, has been transformed as volunteers prepare for the 30th Greek Glendi, set to run from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Feb. 6 to Feb. 8, and from noon to 8 p.m., Feb. 9 on the church grounds, 7671 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota.
Women wearing what once appeared as white aprons, now dusted with chocolate and smelling of butter, brush elbows as they stand packed like a can of sardines on either side of a row of pushed-together fold-up tables.
The showcase and sale of the made-from-scratch sweets from Hellas Bakery remain a link in the chain of the annual cultural celebration. In an assembly-style production line, each woman in the group must do her job to fulfill the 20-year tradition of having the cookies at the event.
Each finished box must contain nine pastries to be marked as ready for sale. The variety of baklavas, saraglis and melomakaronas pastries remain a fixture in the four-day festivital set to take over the church’s front lawn.
The Karterouliotis family, who owns the Tarpon Springs bakery that provides desserts for the Glendi, works with event caterer Popi Ameres to ensure the tradition remains a staple at the East County gathering.
“The goal is to keep cultural traditions alive in the community and the religion, as we bring together Greek and American friends,” Ameres said.
While the ingredients for the bulk of the pastries offered at the event compare to those made in Italy, the differences lie in the spices. Every main course and dessert offered for purchase consists of traces of olive oil, lemon and cinnamon, distinct to Greek dishes, Glendi Chairman Laki Pape said.
In the same room, Ameres works on finishing up the last bit of the cooking, after weeks of working with volunteers to cook thousands of lamb shanks, Greek meatballs and rice, and other food items that fill more than 500 trays of food in the walk-in coolers.
St. Barbara has hosted the Glendi since 1984.
“This is our way of giving the community a taste of our culture,” Pape said.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 6 to Feb. 8; and noon to 8 p.m. Feb. 9.
WHERE: St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, 7671 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota
COST: Admission is $4 for adults and free for children ages 12 and younger.
PARKING: Free parking is available next to the church and at Church of the Trinity, 7225 Lockwood Ridge Road. A shuttle will take visitors who park at Trinity to and from the festival.
INFO: Event includes Greek dance demonstrations, vendors selling jewelry, arts and crafts and other items will be on-site in white tents in front of the church. The raffle for the chance to win a 2014 MKZ or MKX, cash prizes or a trip to Greece, starts at 7 p.m. Feb. 9. stbarbarafestival.org.
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].