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Bringing us together

One off the biggest disappointments in what turned out to be a year of one big disappointment after another had to be the cancellation of the 2020 Greek Food Festival.

It’s been one of the most-anticipated events of the late spring and early summer calendar for more than 30 years. While the food will never disappoint, the annual gathering lets residents from the Tri-State Area and beyond enjoy a couple of hours with friends and family members, maybe learn a little bit about Greek culture and even make a new friend or two.

That experience fell victim to the coronavirus last year, and that’s one of reasons organizers at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church are holding nothing back while making plans for this year’s festival.

“People are anxious to be able to get back out and be involved with events and with one another,” Anthony Mougianis said June 10 during a press conference and tasting held at the church.

“There are a couple of examples I can give,” said Mougianias, who serves as the parish president and will chair the 35th festival.

“Just look — a couple of weeks ago they had a carnival in the parking lot at the Fort Steuben Mall. It was packed. I really like carnival stuff — you know, it’s a lot of fun — but it’s not the same as the food festival.

“And then, just look at the First Fridays on Fourth that the held in downtown Steubenville on June 4 — that was packed, too. It shows that people want to get out, that they want to have a good time. They have really been missing that.”

Joining Mougianis as co-chairs are another couple of guys whose faces should be familiar to everyone who has attended the event for the past several years — Nick Riley and Nick Demitras. They will be directing a staff of volunteers who have been working tirelessly in preparation for the festival and will be continue to work well past 9 p.m. on Friday, the scheduled closing of the three-day event.

“I’ve always said that you win with people,” Mougianias explained. “It doesn’t matter if it is a festival, a church or a football team –you win with people. Without their support and the sponsorships from local businesses and organizations, we wouldn’t be able to have such a spectacular event.”

Scheduled to be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the festival again will allow the spotlight to shine on Greek food and pastries. There will be music and dancing, tours of the church and vendors set up in the lot across from the church, which sits at the corner of South Fourth and South streets.

While all of the culinary offerings have large followings, one of the most sought-after items again will be the humble gyro, that staple of Greek festivals that features roasted meat on a pita served with tomatoes, onions and tzatziki sauce, that wonderful blend of yogurt, cucumbers, garlic and olive oil.

They always are in demand, and Mougianis says this year will be no different.

“I think we will be able to do in three days what we did in four days in 2019 — and maybe beyond,” he predicted. “We sold 8,000 gyros in the four days of the 2019 festival. For three days this year, we are prepared to make 10,000.”

Even more important than the food, though, is that the festival brings people from all walks of life together just to sit back, relax and appreciate good food and, more important, one another.

“This is what I think differentiates our area from any other,” Mougianis said. “We have our problems. We can talk about and look at all of the negatives all of the time. And then there are these kinds of events, where they are a melting pot, and people come together to help one another, to enjoy and celebrate one another — to me, that is invaluable.”

The festival comes at the beginning of one of the biggest weeks of the year in the city — the Dean Martin Hometown Celebration opens Thursday and runs through Saturday. There will be plenty of activities between the area around Historic Fort Steuben and the 200 block of South Fourth Street, where there will be vendors and live music in front of the Spot Bar. Martin tribute performances are scheduled at the Spot on Friday and Saturday.

You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone downtown this week who will honestly be able to say they were not able to enjoy themselves. And it will be because of a lot of hard work put in by organizers, members of their staffs and volunteers. Being able to see that so many people are able to have a great time makes that effort worthwhile.

“I’m not going to tell you it doesn’t get tiresome or it doesn’t get hard,” Mougianis said about the Greek festival. “It gets harder every year. But someway, somehow, with God’s help, we can continue to forge ahead and make it bigger and better every year. You’re going to see a great event, so come hungry and tell your friends.

“Come and enjoy.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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