The Rev. Sarantis Loulakis has presided over St. Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Wantagh for nine years.
But in July 2009, the original building was torn down, forcing the congregation to pray and perform their weekly services inside a makeshift meeting hall.
In an effort to raise money for the completion of their new church, Loulakis and the St. Markella’s community are hosting their 20th Annual Greek Island Festival.
Located on Jones Avenue in Wantagh, the church festival features authentic Greek food, raffles, rides and carnival games for kids.
The festival, which kicked off Thursday and continues until Monday, is expected to bring in a large portion of money needed to help finish the new building.
“We’re getting together as a community and working together,” said Loulakis. “I’ve found a community that is giving, spiritual, humble, and at the same time hardworking people.”
Despite the cloudy weather Friday night, festival-goers still arrived to listen to the live Greek music, play games and enjoy the rides.
“We try to do the best we can to bring the community together,” said Manny Abazis, 37, a parishioner of St. Markella’s.
Festival-goers also enjoyed authentic Greek food like pork and lamb gyros, souvlaki sticks and pitas.
“Greeks want to show you hospitality, wherever you go,” said Loulakis. “They want to feed you, but they always want to feed you more.”
The church has held charity dinners, community dances, and other events to raise money for the new church which is expected to be completed this fall. So far, the congregation has raised about 80 percent of the money they need for the new building, estimated to cost $2 million.
Loulakis said his church can serve as both a place for community worship as well as a safe haven for victims of domestic violence.
“It’s not only for us, but for the community,” he said.
Pictured above: Miles Smith, 2, of Northport prepares to shoot a basket during the Greek Island Festival conducted by St. Markella Greek Orthodox Church in Wantagh. (May 25, 2012)