How does a group of volunteers distribute some 9,000 drive-thru meals, with extra a la carte items and flaky desserts, in less than 36 hours?
With a ton of careful planning, says Alexandra Schramm, who co-chairs the 64th annual Greek Bazaar at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster.
Schramm and Kosta Kontanis, her co-chair, will give volunteers several weeks to recover after the Nov. 5 to 6 food festival.
Participants then will gather for debriefing.
“We talk about what we learned and what we can do better,” Schramm says. This year, for instance, volunteers want to cut the amount of time people wait in their cars before getting food. They also want to process orders faster.
Baker Helen Hazatones leads the group that makes loukoumathes, or pieces of fried dough dipped in honey, similar to doughnuts. The Lancaster resident and helpers will make almost 11,000 of these delicacies starting Saturday morning.
This year, though, she will use a new warming oven to store finished desserts so the group can have more hot honey balls ready to pack into Styrofoam containers.
Also, Hazatones and sister Joanne Martin plan to start making the dough around 5 a.m. Saturday. Sister Maria Georgallis will join soon after. Previously, Hazatones would start the process around 7 a.m. before the 10:30 a.m. Saturday opening.
This honey ball crew can drop about 120 doughnuts into a deep fryer every 30 seconds, Hazatones says.
The Greek chicken legs, served as part of a platter meal, will begin cooking the night before the bazaar. Many other items can be made in advance, though.
Christine Speros, who estimates that she’s attended 60 food bazaars during her 83 years, begins picking grape leaves in May and June. Some 25 to 30 grapevines grow behind the church parking lot. Speros and other church members also grow their own vines at home.
“A lot of our members have grapevines,” she says. Some 10,000 grape leaves have been blanched, dried and packed in sealed freezer bags.
Volunteers fill them with a mixture of meat, rice, onions and spices, and customers can purchase them frozen.
Committee members begin meeting after the new year. They gathered in July to finalize a menu and decide that they wanted to keep the festival as a drive-thru-only event because of the pandemic.
The church temporarily ended its inside dining and festival area in 2020. That meant Schramm and other volunteers had to figure out a way to allow patrons to order and pay in advance using a third-party vendor.
“We had to research and adapt an online point of sale system,” Schramm says. “Then we had to teach everybody to use it.”
Also, during the year, Kontanis manages spreadsheets that list how much of each ingredient to order to make all the food.
Production ramps up in the fall, when volunteers start cooking and baking in the church’s kitchen. Schramm estimates that more than 500 people volunteer for the bazaar, either making food or working during the weekend event.
“Planning the food bazaar is really intense,” Schramm notes.