Sep. 18—Even before the white-and-blue dome of St. George's Church comes into view, the smell of grilled lamb makes a clear statement: Glendi is back.
Now in its 42nd year, the church fundraiser and Greek food festival has returned to full in-person operations, after scaling way back to a series of pandemic-safe drive-thru dinners in 2020.
The full eat-a-thon under white tents on Hanover Street dwarfs any drive-thru efforts, festival chair George Skaperdas said. The church served about 500 lamb shanks during its biggest drive-thru dinner last fall — on Friday alone, Skaperdas said the church sold almost 500 lamb shanks, plus gyros, spanakopita and sticky baklava by the tray.
"I knew there was going to be a big pent-up demand," Skaperdas said, and not just for food.
Skaperdas said this year saw an explosion of volunteers who wanted to get together in the days before Glendi to help cook the food and enjoy each other's company. Many of the volunteers are retired people who had been limiting their excursions out of concern over the coronavirus.
Skaperdas said he hoped the festival would be safe: they asked that unvaccinated people wear masks, and said most people had already taken a vaccine. COVID-19 vaccines were available on-site on Friday and Saturday, with the city and state health departments offering free vaccines.
"As much as we like to call Glendi a celebration, we also want to be part of the community, and help with community health," Skaperdas said.
For Skaperdas and other longtime festival volunteers, seeing people in-person, enjoying the food and cheerful atmosphere on a perfect sunny September Saturday was worth the wait.
"Andrew Papanicolay, the festival treasurer, said the feeling of an in-person festival was "fantastic."
"The smell of the food, the interaction," he said, could not be replicated with a drive-thru.
"They don't compare to the full-blown Glendi," said Maria Dongas, the festival's gyro chair. The festival is three very long days for volunteers, but Dongas said she loves talking to people as she serves gyros, hearing their stories about the church and the city. Those conversations give her a sense of connection and community.
"My feet might be tired," Dongas said, "but I can't wait to come back the next morning."