Many decades ago, Harriet Kanelidis was a new member of the Holy Mother of God Greek Orthodox Church. She was grateful to fellow parishioner Eva Kypreos who took Kanelidis under her wing. Kypreos was also the champion of turning the Tallahassee Greek Food Festival into the large-scale occasion it is today. Kanelidis worked alongside Kypreos, and was amazed by her boundless energy and flawless organization of the volunteers and recipes. Though Kypreos passed away a few years ago, Kanelidis was honored to continue implementing her vision for the annual event alongside the church leadership.
“She’s still in our hearts,” says Kanelidis. “I know she would be so proud of how it has all come together and become a Tallahassee main event.”
This year’s Tallahassee Greek Food Festival on Nov. 2 and 3 will mark three decades of involvement for Kanelidis, who has worked her way up from volunteer to chairperson on the festival committee. Many decades ago, the festival began as a small bake sale. Kanelidis’ mentor Kypreos was part of the original planning committee that decided to offer the community as much as they could in the way of Greek culture and expand into a two-day festival.
Growing up in the orthodoxy, Kanelidis always felt right at home in Tallahassee’s local congregation. She explains how the Orthodox Church is part of a larger umbrella of worship that includes a diverse set of nationalities. As a second generation Greek whose grandparents immigrated to America in the early 1900s, she explains how the uniformity of church services and fellowship across the world can be comforting. Many also host their own local festivals.
“Where I grew up the church was so large that I just went to the festival,” recalls Kanelidis. “In Tallahassee, we are small but mighty. We need everybody involved in the volunteering aspect, and then they get a break for dinner sometimes,” she laughs. The festival has grown exponentially over the years, bringing in thousands of attendees. Kanelidis explains that planning and scheduling for an event this size is no easy feat, and likens the process to a rolling stone. It begins slowly as she chips away at tasks —securing advertising, signing entertainment contracts, organizing volunteers — and quickly gathers speed as she brainstorms new ideas with parishioners.
“I’ve had one perfect festival that was totally sold out at closing time,” says Kanelidis. “It can’t always be that way and we hate to disappoint or run out of food. That’s my joy though, that end challenge.”
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