Clear skies drew an estimated 2,000 people to the Glendi Ethnic Food Fair Saturday and Sunday at St. Seraphim Orthodox Church in Santa Rosa, now in its 24th year of serving up multi-ethnic fare, folk music and dance.
When the crowd wasn't digging into Greek gyros, Middle Eastern hummus and Eritrean beef on Sunday, they were taking folk dance lessons and listening to the exotic harmonies of Edessa, a band that specializes in authentic music from the Balkan region.
"If you close your eyes, you feel like you're in a Middle Eastern market," said Wendy Peterson of Santa Rosa, now in her 10th year at the Glendi. "The food is delicious, and it's fun to eat dishes from around the world, all in one place."
The two-day festival is the major fund-raiser for St. Seraphim Orthodox Church and is expected to raise about $40,000 this year, said Father Lawrence Margitich. About 10 percent of the net proceeds will go to charity.
"It's helped us to build the church," said Deacon Nicholas Carr. "And now to do the iconography."
About 150 volunteers manned the 20-some food booths, which served up exotic dishes like Balkan Sarma (cabbage stuffed with veal, turky and pork) and Fatoush, a Middle Eastern salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers and pita chips. There was craft beer and wine to wash it all down.
"We've always had a good crowd, but this is the biggest crowd I've ever seen," Margitich said. "Where else can you get Eritrean food? And it's all very affordable."
Demetrius Hamdelin of Rohnert Park, whose parents are Palestinian, attended a talk on the church's frescoes, which are still in the process of being painted directly on the plaster.
"Most Americans are familiar with the Greek or Russan Orthodox, but those are just two pieces of the puzzle," Hamdelin said. "Each ethnicity has its own expression, so it's unique, and yet there's uniformity."
St. Seraphim Orthodox Church welcomes about 220 people each Sunday to service, and about 70 percent of those are converts, said Margitich. The church membership includes about 115 families, comprising Russians, Eritreans, Palestinians, Serbians and Greeks, among other ethnicities.
"My parents were married here, so I've been going to this church since before I was born," said Joe Anderson, a senior at St. Vincent's High in Petaluma who served as co-chair of the festival. "It's a community, and it's family."
The festival started back in 1989. That first year, it was so small that organizers were able to move it into the parish hall after it poured the night before.
On Saturday, rain also threatened to dampen the first day of the weekend festival, but the skies cleared around the time thet gates opened at 11 a.m. and the church grounds were jammed by 3 p.m.
"In Greece, Glendi means having a big party in your back yard, and the whole neighborhood is there," Father Margitich said. "We know how to celebrate."