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‘Maronite marathon’

Church members gear up for 27th annual Lebanese Food Festival
Nazira Haboush (left) and Dalal El-Jour prepare food for the Lebanese Food Festival.
Take a few hundred pounds of grape and cabbage leaves, another few hundred pounds of ground lamb, an army of industrious volunteers and what do you get?

Enough Lebanese delicacies to last through the weekend – you hope.

When the 27th annual Lebanese Food Festival opens May 13 at 10 a.m., it will bring an end to months of preparation for the volunteers from St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church – and launch a three-day weekend of even more frenzied chopping, baking, stuffing and grilling.

As an estimated crowd of 20,000 hungry festival-goers descends on the church's 15-acre campus to gorge on shawirma, bubbaghanooge, zalabia and other Lebanese treats, church members circle the wagons: four refrigerated trucks to hold all the fresh ingredients.

One entire truck is dedicated to storing the vegetables for tabouli – a mixture of parsley, cracked wheat, onion and tomato that must be hand-chopped. At least half the festival offerings will be made fresh over the weekend, according to festival spokeswoman Sandra Joseph Brown.

"We call it the Maronite Marathon," says Brown.

Pie wars
As for the rest of the menu items, they got their start on the first Tuesday in February, when volunteers begin meeting two or more days a week in the banquet hall behind the church to stuff squash, make meat, cheese and spinach pies and roll cabbage and grape leaves to freeze for the festival.

They'll need 24,000 pies – enough to sell one every four seconds on festival weekend. The volunteers jokingly call this stage of preparation, and the friendly competitions it inspires between the workers, the "Pie Wars."

As volunteers sat down March 29 to begin stuffing and rolling 1500 pounds of raw grape leaves and cabbage leaves – enough leaves, it's been estimated, to stretch from St. Anthony's to Short Pump Town Center if laid end to end – they did not appear the least bit daunted by the task.

On the contrary; they were just relieved to have finished the meat pies.

"We're always glad to get those over with," said Rosie Shaia, one of the volunteer coordinators. "They're so messy because of the flour."

As the women worked, they gossiped about celebrities, speculated on the outcome of "Dancing with the Stars" – and laughed a lot.

"We don't just work," said Shaia. "We talk; we celebrate birthdays.

"But," she added with an amused smile, "I crack the whip if they get too lazy!"

Going to pot
Held annually on the weekend after Mother's Day, the festival began more than two decades ago as a Sunday picnic, and has grown to become a popular family and community event – one of the largest festivals in the Richmond area.

So, while the ladies of St. Anthony's will enjoy their Mother's Day meals, gifts and family get-togethers as much as anyone else, they will also be bracing themselves for the "Mother's Day hangover" of intense preparation that begins first thing next morning.

"We start on Monday and go round the clock," says Shaia.

On Friday, as little Sadler Road becomes a bumper-to-bumper thoroughfare and cars stream into the parking lot, the pace picks up a hundredfold. Some 300 volunteers are needed to staff the festival itself.

"We're all here all week," says Theresa Esper, a veteran of 24 years with the festival. "The house goes to pot. And so does the family!"

From the smile on her face, however, it's plain she can't imagine spending Mother's Day week any other way.

The Lebanese Food Festival will take place May 13-15 at St. Anthony's Maronite Catholic Church, 4611 Sadler Road in Glen Allen. For details and a complete menu, visit stanthonymaronitechurch.org, or call 346-1161 or 270-7234.


Community

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

Equestrian clinic planned July 7-8 in Henrico

Henrico equestrians interested in deepening the bond between themselves and their horses have the opportunity to attend a two day clinic, held at Steppin’ High Stables on July 7-8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The clinic, “Become Partners with your Horse,” will be taught by multiple world champion equestrienne Terry Preiser and will focus on how riders and horses can work together to achieve more. > Read more.

Henrico school bus driver honored

The Henrico-based Hephaestus Society recently awarded its first annual community heroes award (the Hephaestus Award) to Hicham Elgharouch (pictured, center) for what it termed his "selfless acts of caring" in his duties as a Henrico County Public Schools bus driver. Henrico County Director of Pupil Transportation Josh Davis, joined Hephaestus Society President Travis Gardner, in presenting the award and an accompanying $1,500 check to Elgharouch last month.

Elgharouch was selected for his clear and demonstrated patience and for his infectious positive attitude, according to the society. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Grab the kids and check out these fun family-friendly events taking place this weekend! Speed over to the Henrico Theatre for the film “Turbo” or watch “Dumbo” under the stars at Clarke-Palmore House Museum. Little ones can meet Thomas the Tank Engine at CMOR-Central or play at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Don’t party too hard on the Fourth because a whole weekend of fun events await! Enjoy a classy date night without the kids at James River Cellars Winery’s second annual Smoke and Vine Festival. Another date night option is at the Richmond Funny Bone, where comedian April Macie will perform all weekend. The kids have their own options this weekend as well. Choose from storytime at Tuckahoe and Twin Hickory libraries or family-oriented karaoke at Aunt Sarah’s Pancake House – I hear they have hits from Disney’s “Frozen.” For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Restaurant watch

Find out how your favorite dining establishments fared during their most recent inspections by the Virginia Department of Health. > Read more.

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Oak Hall Baptist Church’s Vacation Bible School, “Workshop of Wonders,” will take place from 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. July 13-17. Kids preschool to sixth grade are invited to grab… Full text

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