Bring your appetites to Wheeling: Italian and Greek festivals overlap this year | News, Sports, Jobs

picture by: Derek Red

Michael Graham, left, and James McMullen help set up the stage at Wheeling’s Heritage Port for Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival this weekend.

WHEELING — From Wednesday through Saturday, the 21st Grecian Fest provided Ohio Valley residents with the opportunity to sample not only Greek cuisine, but the country’s culture as well. From today, it welcomes a neighbor on the festival circuit.

Just a three-minute drive—or 14-minute walk, for those who want a taste of both—from St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church, Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival will cut the ribbon for this year’s event at Heritage Port. Today through Sunday, patrons will get a taste of Italian cuisine, music and tradition.

The two sharing the weekend is rare, but this year it is. However, the organizers of the two festivals do not consider this circumstance as a competition. Rather, they see it as an opportunity and a way to bring maybe even more people to downtown Wheeling this weekend.

picture by: Derek Red

Barb Landers, seated, helps customers with their orders in the pastry line at this weekend’s Grecian Fest.

Michele Fabbro, president of the Italian Heritage Festival, and Gus Kayafas, director of the Grecian Fest, share this conviction. Fabbro sees the end of July as an opportunity for two important ethnic groups in the Wheeling area to come together and combine their efforts to share their culture with festival-goers.

“I just see it as two very strong ethnic groups that are going to have fun over this weekend,” she 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.”

The heritage of both cultures will be on display throughout the weekend. 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.

Outside, visitors can listen to live authentic Greek music and watch Greek dancers perform each evening, while sampling authentic Greek dishes like gyros, souvlaki, and spanakopita.

“We welcome people into our homes and share with them our hospitality, our delicious cuisine and our rich culture and faith,” Kayafas said.

During this weekend’s Italian Heritage Festival, in addition to performances of current popular music, the stage will host several bands specializing in Italian favorites like Avanti, the 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 sit down and eat authentic Italian fare, browse vendors selling Italian goods such as prosciutto and sopresatta, pasta and pasta machines, and clothing.

Fabbro said the Italian Festival is a local staple thanks to its variety of food options, the entertainment it brings to the waterfront, and the friendliness and community. Additionally, she believes that people can also be brought to support the festival through her charitable efforts, 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 people throughout the Ohio Valley will take the opportunity this weekend to visit both sites and expand their cultural horizons.

“We think it’s great for people to come and taste both festivals,” Kayafas said. “I know if I was going 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.

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