Baton Rouge Greek Festival grows

Dancing, music and food the key ingredients for celebration

When members of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Baton Rouge began planning their first Greek festival, Jimmy Burland hit the road.

“I went around to other festivals for a couple of years, in Mobile and Atlanta and New Orleans, and took the best of what they did and tried to apply it here, and so far so good,” Burland, executive director of the Baton Rouge Greek Festival, Inc., said last week.

What the group at the church had in mind was enhancing the church’s mission statement by providing money to charity.

“And we thought that this would be a good way to do it. Other churches in the country use their Greek festivals to raise money for non-profits and even their own church,” Burland said.

The Baton Rouge church was originally a mission church from the New Orleans Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, and became a full-fledged church five or six years ago,” Burland said.

Last year’s first Baton Rouge Greek Festival was small and somewhat hampered by rain.

“I think it went well. The people that were there really enjoyed it. We were at least able to break even due to the weather. This year, we’ve tried to make it a little bigger and better,” he said.

“The focus is really the music, the dancing and the food, so we’ve concentrated on retaining the same Greek band we had from Atlanta last year, Alpha Omega Sound. They’ve been doing the Atlanta festival and the New Orleans festival for many years, they’re an authentic Greek band. We’ve got the Greek dancers from the church in New Orleans, and the Baton Rouge Belly Dancers,” Burland said.

The food menu has been adjusted this year, keeping the popular pita sandwiches and leg of lamb, and adding lamb chops for the first time. There also will be pork souvlaki, grilled and marinated pork on a shish kabob; dolmades, or stuffed grape leaves; Greek salad and the also popular Greek pastries, specifically baklava.

“It’s kind of exotic because not many people get exposed to that food, except coming to a festival,” Burland said. “We’re not going to have the funnel cakes or anything like that, but the things that are appropriate for the culture.”

Last year, the festival bought its baklava, but this year volunteers, mostly from the church congregation, will hand make the desserts which feature layers of phyllo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.

Visitors will also be able to stroll through a Greek market offering imported Greek items, including olive oil, honey and coffee. Other booths will sell clothing, jewelry, art and crafts.

Festival T-shirts and posters also will be for sale. In addition, the original painting for the poster, done by Alla Baltas, owner of Alla’s Fine Art, will be auctioned off for charity. Baltas also signed and numbered 60 of the festival posters which will be for sale.

“We’re expect 2,500-3,000 people. We’re shooting high. There were 800-1,000 (people) last year,” Burland said. “Hopefully we just get a nice, beautiful day that we can raise some money for charity.”

Inaugural run

Maria Yiannopoulos simplified things by calling it “one Greek helping another.”

But it was pure coincidence that the Louisiana Assistive Technology Access Network (LATAN) had picked Saturday, May 11, the same day as the Greek Festival, for its first run/walk/roll. Inquiring with city government on the day’s availability, the non-profit was told it would have to clear its run plans with the Greek Festival, which had already secured that date.

“And I said, ‘Now what luck is that?,’ Yiannopoulos, public information officer for LATAN, said this week. “I had never met them (the Greek Festival committee) before, but we decided to help each other out.”

The statewide LATAN, headquartered in Baton Rouge, helps people with disabilities become more independent.

“This is any type of disability, from autism to a traumatic brain injury, and anything in between. Assistive technology is a device or tool that helps a person be more independent.” she said.

The device could enable a paralyzed person to type by using just his eyes, or could be a whole automated room, where the person could control things like the thermostat, the TV, the curtains, the angle of the bed, etc., Yiannopoulos said.

LATAN is marking 20 years of operation and wanted to host a 5K, now called the Toga Run/Walk/Roll, as a way to include the community in its celebration.

“They’ll be people running, walking and in wheelchairs, it’s an inclusive race, all ages, all disabilities,” she said.

Registration is $30, and ends at 8 a.m. Saturday at Town Square. The races, which also include a 1-mile, start at 9 a.m. Those participating will get a festival T-shirt, and festival food and drink vouchers. “We’re going to continue doing it,” Yiannopoulos said. “We’ve had fun working with the Greek Fest. We hope to grow it more, and help them grow.”