Dayton festival organizers share how they’re making cultural celebrations possible during coronavirus pandemic

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the fate of large gatherings, festivals and traditional events has often been grim.

Most of the signature festivals and big events of summer have been canceled, and that trend is continuing into fall.

Four of Dayton’s most popular food festivals, however, are still moving forward with plans for smaller-scale versions of their events, with a focus on authentic, cultural food made by volunteers available for carryout, in addition to entertainment that can be enjoyed virtually or from a safe distance on-site.

We talked with organizers of the Germanfest Picnic, Dayton Greek Festival, Dayton Lebanese Festival and Italian Fall Festa about their plans to find a way to continue their traditions in some way this year and what those traditions mean to the community.

“We want to do this for the people in the community and even for our parishioners because that’s what Greeks do — they share their food, their culture, their heritage,” said Debra Pulos, public relations coordinator for the Greek Festival. “And, that’s kind of what we want to do. So we’re gonna give this a shot.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Brian Andzik, one of the chief organizers of the Italian Fall Festa, also recognizes the impact that these festivals have on the community. Especially during the coronavirus pandemic, people are searching for ways to feel closer to others in a safe way — and these festivals can provide a unique remedy for this newfound isolation, he said.

“People have been losing their spirit a little bit, so we thought it was really important to try to maintain our continuity,” Andzik said. “We’ve been doing this 43 years, and we thought that it would be bad to break tradition. We think it’s important to bring something back to our patrons that have been with us for decades. So, we didn’t want to let go of that. We have the desire to do that for the community.”

Father Alex Harb of the St. Ignatius of Antioch (Maronite) in Dayton and organizer of the Lebanese Festival said their festival is an important tradition that brings people together.

“We’ve done the festival at different places, and it’s really kind of a homecoming for the church, where it’s a chance for people who are out of town, people who move further away, to come back to remember and to be involved,” he said.

Festival food to go

The common thread between these four events is they all will offer a carryout component.

The Germanfest Picnic has been working hard to find a way to give the people what they want: German food and beer. This year, from Aug. 14-16, the Dayton Liederkranz Turner Club will offer food and beer by carryout along with virtual entertainment during Germanfest Picnic LITE.

The event will take place at the Dayton Liederkranz Turner Clubhouse at 1400 E. Fifth St. in St. Anne’s Hill, instead of at Riverscape MetroPark. German favorites like Schnitzel dinners, brats, metts, German potato salad, sauerkraut, desserts and beer will be available for carryout by pre-ordering online at There will be a Donor’s Biergarten on-site where groups of up to six people can reserve a table to enjoy beer and food for up to two hours. Space for this option is very limited, and guests must remain socially distanced and wear masks. Reservations can be made online at the German club’s website.

There will be a virtual polka mass at 10 a.m. on Sunday and Bavarian fashion show at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Additionally, representatives from the DLT Genealogy will be available virtually to offer guests hints for tracing their German heritage.

The Lebanese Festival will offer take-out dinners available through a drive-thru from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 29-30. A drive-thru lane will take customers to a food booth behind the church, where they will be instructed to text their last name to a festival volunteer at the booth so that their order can be brought out to them. Guests can pre-order online by visiting the Lebanese Festival’s website. A full carryout menu also is available for viewing on the festival’s website.

Organizers of the Greek Festival and Italian Fall Festa put the concept of festival food to go to practice in 2018, when inclement weather forced the cancellation or early closing of their events. With tons of food prepared by volunteers at risk of going to waste, both festivals quickly shifted gears to offer carryout.

This year, they will offer a similar setup.

Organizers of the Greek Festival have announced that on Sept. 11-13, fans of the festival will be able to pick up their favorite Greek culinary treats via a drive-thru at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, adjacent to the Dayton Art Institute. When the carryout menu is announced, guests will be able to pre-order on the festival’s website.

The Italian festival, set for Sept. 11-13, also will offer a drive-thru. In addition, festival-goers also will be able to view some live entertainment from their cars. The festival will be cash-only. More details will be announced as the date approaches.

Organizers for each of the events said they will continue to adapt their plans as needed based on current health and safety protocols.

Getting ready

Preparations for the Germanfest Picnic Lite will begin next Wednesday, Aug. 12, with volunteers and club members preparing the meals at the clubhouse, with social distancing top of mind.

“It’s a shame because it’s usually kind of a party atmosphere that we have with people visiting, and it’s when our older people that can’t work out in the sun can be a part of it,” said Judy Schneider, Dayton Liederkranz Turner Clubhouse’s Public Relations Liaison. “Now, everybody has to be a table apart. The social thing is kind of sad. But, we want to see it happen. And we’ll get through it.”

Volunteers and organizers with the Italian Fall Festa can do the vast majority of their meal preparations outside, making social distancing efforts all that much easier. Additionally, their ability to use acres of land works well for a carryout concept.

“We still plan to prepare a lot of our food items outdoors,” Andzik said. “And that solves a couple of problems. People can be in an environment where they’re not congregating indoors, we can maintain the social distancing recommendations and we can still prepare those items safely. We’re also modifying a few things that we’re doing inside the kitchen. Since we don’t have guests coming into our dining area, that’s now going to be a prep and staging area for food products that are going to be picked up.”

The Lebanese Festival will be moving forward with similar outdoor meal preparations, grilling and making a portion of their food outdoors.

However, despite all of the preparations currently taking place for all four festivals, there is still a bit of mystery in what the future may hold for events like these, and festival organizers want to make sure that their guests are aware of the ever-evolving situation and remain patient as things could change.

“People have to know that just like a lot of other things right now, that this is kind of an experiment,” Pulos said. “So be patient with us and be part of the experiment.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Crucial fundraisers

Without the full-scale events this year, many festival organizers are seeking additional ways to raise critical funds.

“The Germanfest Picnic is our biggest fundraiser every year,” Schneider said. “We have a club that absolutely eats money. If it’s not the plumbing, it’s the air. If it’s not the air, it’s the sewage.”

To combat the revenue that will be lost without a full festival this year, the club is hosting a challenge grant with a goal of raising $13,000. A handful of members and supporters of the club have pledged $6,500 as a matching challenge grant for those who are willing to donate up to $6,500. Donations are being accepted now online on the German Club’s website or by mail.

These fundraising efforts are also crucial for The Greek Festival and Italian Fall Festa, who eventually give that money that they raise back to the community.

“From a fundraising perspective, it is difficult because we do have to generate revenue to maintain our property and our facility and grounds,” Andzik said. “But, we give a lot of money back to the community through scholarships, donations, charitable organizations and a lot of other causes that we support locally at the state level, and nationally. We want to still be able to do that. But, just like the other organizations, it’s really difficult. So, we’re trying to balance a lot of things right now by offering something that brings a sense of community, keeping everybody safe, generating revenue for our facility and generating revenue to support other organizations. It’s a heck of a balancing act.”

Organizers of the Greek Festival also point out that, even though their finances have taken a hit due to coronavirus pandemic, they still want to put on a celebration of their culture and community. These festivals are about more than just fundraising — they are about bringing people together.

“Just like any other nonprofit, our finances have taken a hit because of lack of engagement, so we’ve run a couple of campaigns and we’re having reasonably good success,” Pulos said. “So, when we talked about doing the festival, we knew we weren’t going to make a lot of money doing this. I don’t know what we’ll make, but it’s going to be worth it. We want to do this for the people in the community and for our parishioners.”

Credit: Italian Fall Festa

Credit: Italian Fall Festa

More information

Find more information about each of the four festivals on their websites:

Germanfest Picnic LITE (Aug. 14-16):

The Lebanese Festival (Aug. 29-30):

Dayton Greek Festival (Sept. 11-13):

Italian Fall Festa (Sept. 11-13):

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