WHEELING – Residents of the Ohio Valley had the opportunity to experience Greek food and culture through the Grecian Fest that took place last week. From July 29, it welcomes an Italian neighbor for a shared festival weekend like no other.
For those who want to experience the best of both worlds, it’s only a three-minute drive or 14-minute walk to St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church of the Italian Valley Heritage Festival. Ohio Undo. Participants will have the opportunity to experience Italian cuisine, music and tradition.
The shared goal of the two organizers is to bring even more people to downtown Wheeling over the weekend, eliminating any thoughts of competition between them.
Michele Fabbro, president of the Italian Heritage Festival, and Gus Kayafas, director of the Grecian Fest, share the same vision. Fabbro sees the end of July as a chance for two prominent ethnic groups in Wheeling to join forces and spread their culture to partygoers.
“I just see it as two very strong ethnic groups going to have fun over the weekend,” Fabbro said. “When it brings people into the community here in Wheeling, it’s a win-win situation for both of us, both for the Greek festival and for our festival.”
“We are here for the same purpose: to share our cultures with people,” she added.
Throughout the weekend, the heritage of both cultures will be on display.
At Grecian Fest, guests can visit St. John the Divine Church and learn more about the Greek Orthodox faith. They can also hear a youth choir perform liturgical hymns of Byzantine chants inside the church each day at 4:45 p.m.
Visitors outside can listen to traditional Greek music and watch dancers perform three times a night, while enjoying authentic Greek cuisine like souvlaki, spanakopita, and gyros.
“We welcome people into our homes and share with them our hospitality, our delicious cuisine and our rich culture and faith,” Kayafas said.
During the Italian Festival, people can listen to current popular music as well as favorite Italian bands like Avanti, Rex Taneri Band and Ray Massa’s Big Italian Show. The festival will hold a Catholic mass at 10 a.m. on Sunday and will also host the return of the pétanque tournament and the Little Italy attraction.
At Little Italy on 12th Street, festival-goers can explore Italian cuisine and peek at vendors selling Italian goods such as prosciutto and sopresatta, pasta and pasta machines, and clothing.
Fabbro said the Italian Festival is a local favorite because of its variety of food options, the waterfront entertainment it offers and the unity of the community. She believes people are drawn to the festival because of its efforts to help charities which in turn support locals.
“I think a lot of people realize that the proceeds from the festival go to our scholarship, so it supports young people,” she added.
Fabbro and Kayafas hope residents of the Ohio Valley will take the opportunity to explore both sites and expand their cultural horizons this weekend.
“We think it’s great for people to come and taste both festivals,” Kayafas said. “I know if I went to one, I would probably say, ‘hey, let’s go see what’s going on in the other one.'”
“We don’t see it as competition,” he added. “We are not here for the money. We are here for the community and everything that happens is a boon.