CAMARILLO : Music, Dancing, Baklava Abound at Greek Fest

To a growing number of Ventura County residents, this weekend's Greek Festival in Camarillo has become their once-a-year chance to gorge on grilled lamb and baklava, and dance like Zorba.

To the Greet Orthodox parishioners of St. Demetrios, the annual festival caps months of work that brings in thousands of dollars to the 16-year-old church.

Standing at their booth with a tray of baklava and other luscious pastries, Stacy Hronos and Katherine Pappas said they baked perhaps as many as 30,000 of the traditional Greek treats. The pair said even with the help of about 20 other parish volunteers they had to start baking and freezing the desserts in February.

"They look simple, but that's a lot of dough," said Hronos, who learned to cook the baklava and galatoboureko from her mother.

Along with desserts, the parishioners sell everything from Greek Orthodox religious icons to grilled lamb gyros as part of the fund-raiser for the church located in a former Air Force chapel at Camarillo Airport. The airport was once Oxnard Air Force Base.

After last year's event, the parish was able to finish paying off the mortgage for the church, said festival organizer Christo Pulos. This year, Pulos said some of the money raised would go toward renovating the icon-filled chapel. The rest will be sent to the Greek Orthodox archdiocese in San Francisco.

"(The festival) has become a central part of our year," Pulos said, standing in the church recreation room surrounded by dozens of parish volunteers working to prepare food for the event.

Pulos expected 15,000 to 20,000 people to visit the two-day festival with a $1 admission. Many come to enjoy The Helenic Sounds of Los Angeles band or learn Greek dancing, he said.

"People come because we know how to show them a good time," he said. But watch out for the ouzo, he said. "It's as smooth as milk, but it can knock you on your keister."

The festival continues today from noon until 7 p.m. at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 400 Skyway Drive, Camarillo. For more information, call 482-1273.

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