With a kind smile, gentle touch and kind words of greeting or encouragement, the Rev. Milutin Janjic aimed to spread love and joy throughout the community for the 38th annual Santa Cruz Greek Festival.
The block party was host to dozens of vendors who grilling meats and serving desserts as smells of lamb were wafting across the streets to where ladies were line dancing to the cheery live music. Each year, the Greek Orthodox community comes together to share authentic Greek food, pastries, spirits, live Greek music, folk dancing, jewelry, pottery and clothing, and this year was no different with crowds of people eagerly lining up to sample the dishes.
“We are sharing with our beloved city what we have — our spirit, our food, our music, our culture that we inherited from those generations before us,” Janjic said.
Proceeds for the event are used to support different charities, with Janjic saying they are proud to be one of the biggest donors to programs serving foster children. The festival is “just one part of this Santa Cruz life that we share.”
“We’re so happy to do it, so proud,” Janjic said.
One volunteer, Taso Whatley, identified himself as Greek Orthodox and said his love for the parish and the peace it brings are big motivators.
“It’s a good cause, it’s all for charity,” Whatley said between serving drinks. “The clergy here is peaceful, just peaceful and they are out here doing things just out of kindness.”
For Whatley, they are doing what he said we all ought to be doing — “looking out for each other.”
“We’re all God’s children, whether we believe in God or not,” he said.
For Tammy Hayes and Roger Dunn — who describe themselves as “festival nuts” and say they rarely miss a festival — this was their first year attending, and they soon were won over.
“It’s good food, good music, everything I love, and I love Greece,” Hayes said. “[This is] great, it brings people together to have a good time.”
Food options such as moussaka, souvlaki, roasted lamb shanks, gyro, calamari, pastitsio and more meant that those with curious palates had plenty to choose from. With the crowd building and some booths already selling out of desserts, the good weather and genuine smiles indicated that this would be another successful year.
Janjic said he was excited to see “the unity and love among people.” It also buoyed his spirits to see the interest and curiosity for both spiritual and cultural matters, eagerly giving tours of the church and talking about the history of immigration of those “generations before us who came to this country from Greece, Cyprus and Western Turkey many decades and centuries ago.”
For him, the event was personal.
“I want people to walk away with love, joy, fulfillment,” Janjic said. “With new friendships, new discoveries that enrich their lives.” And as the festival is spread out over three days, every person has the chance to experience it for themselves. The Greek Festival continues from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday at Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, 223 Church St. Admission is free.
“It’s three days of constant happiness,” Janjic said. “Yesterday was one of the best days — it means that Santa Cruz has not lost [its] humanity.”
IF YOU GO
What: 38th Annual Santa Cruz Greek Festival.
Where: Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church, 223 Church St., Santa Cruz.
When: Noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.