Upper Darby, PA – This past weekend St. Demetrios opened it’s doors again and hosted it’s annual Greek festival. But more importantly it used the occasion to announce that it had reached another milestone in its establishment as a Greek Orthodox parish in Delaware county.
On Saturday afternoon, while the weekend was in full swing, festival chairman, Mike Economou along with a group of parish leaders and public officials walked through the festive crowd, over to the stage for a special announcement.
“Today I would like to extend a very special “Thank You” to 4 individuals that you will not see in the kitchen, behind a booth or preparing a meal. Actually 3 out of 4 of them are not even members of our St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church. However, what these men have done for our Community will change us forever,” said Economou.
St. Demetrios has been going through a renaissance the past few years. A newly established men’s adult basketball league, new church facade, the addition of the Pontian Greek monument and a new parish priest, are all new additions of the last few years.
What has impeded this parish from growing and remained a challenge has been parking. “We have all witnessed many positive changes over the past few years, however the one that has eluded our efforts was increasing our off- street parking capacity. We have a very active community and our facilities are always open and welcoming. Our halls both Large and Small can accommodate over 1,200 sit down guests and we have, until now, struggled with limited off-street parking.”
Economou’s reflections on off-street parking were certainly apparent during the festival. Each year the surrounding neighborhood becomes overrun with traffic and parking reflective of a Friday night in old city. While the festival is still extremely well attended, a parking facility would certainly alleviate traffic conditions and likely draw more people to attend this and other affairs, including the annual Independence Day gathering in March which draws on Greeks from all over the Delaware Valley.
“I have shared our dilemma and our hope for one day to expand our parking capacity and the following men listened. Not only did they listen but they are making this dream a reality. Today, I would like to announce a cooperative effort between St. Demetrios Church, Upper Darby Township and our neighbors the City of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation in obtaining additional land adjacent to currently owned Church property for the purpose of expanding our parking capacity. We are anticipating the gain of approximately 100 parking spaces, thus changing the future outlook of our community. We anticipate completing this endeavor sometime this year in the late Fall.”
Congressman Robert Brady (Pennsylvania 1st district), Mayor Thomas Micozzie (Upper Darby Twp.), Mr. Michael DeBeradinis, (Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources Commissioner of Philadelphia Parks and Recreation), and Mr. Michael Karloutsos (church parishioner and owner of The Water Works Restaurant) were acknowledged and thanked by Economou for making the dream deal a reality. The ramifications for the historic Greek Orthodox community will likely create a resurgence in membership as well, which has been apparent says Economou. “Church membership is up and growing. People want to be part of a Greek speaking community”.
Many Greeks in the Delaware Valley consider St. Demetrios the heart of the Greek community. In the 1970’s through the 1980’s, 1 in 7 people were Greek in Upper Darby. It was the largest Greek community in the Philadelphia area. A Greek coffee house and several cultural organizations that were originally established here, are still present, and are what people identify with, when referring to Philadelphia’s Greektown.
St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church, Caesars Kafenion and Pontian Leski are all integral parts of a vibrant community that once was. Now, one of them has now taken the lead and made a stand for the future. They’ve made the decision, to continue. Whether the rest of the community will follow or not in the years to come cannot be predicted.
But keep this mind. There’s arguable nothing like a Greek festival in the spring. Food, dancing and plenty of music are only part of the draw to this annual affair. We Greeks come to the festivals to be together. It’s a place to rekindle our relationships with family and friends, and most of all with the deepest part of our soul, our Hellenic spirit. As long as the Greek festival of Upper Darby continues, then Greeks will make the pilgrimage. Their presence and history will continue to be part of this place it began for so many immigrants before.