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Annual ethnic fest offers a bit of this, some of that

The event, a St. Joan of Arc Church fundraiser, draws thousands with rides, a thrift sale - and global foods.

[Times photos: Olie Stonerook]
Alyson Mueller, 18 months, and Alaina Mueller, 3, ride a scooter Saturday at the St. Joan of Arc Ethnic Festival. They attended with grandfather Chuck Hoff.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000


This weekend, members of the St. Joan of Arc Church invited Hernando County to celebrate cultural differences through food and entertainment.

photo
Bobby Flamand, left, and Myranda Twombly, both 6, descend a super slide Saturday at the four-day festival.
The four-day festival has grown over the past nine years and now draws thousands of people for carnival rides, ethnic food and entertainment.

By noon on Sunday, the festival's large white food tent was filled with the scents of Italian, German, Spanish, Irish, Greek and American foods.

Violet Weeks, co-chair of the festival committee, said the international fare is by far the event's main draw.

"We have had thousands of people," said Weeks, who started with the festival four years ago by cooking Polish food such as pierogies and stuffed cabbage. "People come from all over for our Polish food."

"I like a little bit of this and a little bit of that," Weeks said. "I think most people like to sample some of everything."

On Saturday afternoon, Weeks said she had an emotional moment when she looked out at the crowd of different people from the community who had come together for the event.

"This is what we have been working for," she said. "That is what it's all about."

The festival is put on by 300 volunteers, Weeks said, and not all are members of the church.

On the final day of the festival, bargain hunters in the church's parish hall milled past tables of treasures at "Second Hand Rose," a cross between a garage sale and a flea market. The annual charity sale has grown along with the festival.

"We were so busy in here on Thursday, you could barely walk down the aisles," said Dottie Strawbridge, who organizes the thousands of donations for the annual event.

Some of the most popular items, Strawbridge said, are books and accessories.

"But there is a mad rush for the jewelry," she said. "They were standing in a line back to the door when we first opened. It was surprising."

Admission to the fair is free, but there is a charge for carnival rides, crafts and food to raise money for the church coffers.

Last year's festival raised about $40,000, Weeks said, and organizers hope to see that figure increase to benefit upcoming church projects.

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