Tens of thousands of visitors flock to the Berlin Fair each year and the event makes for some of the busiest three days in town. On Sunday evening, the Berlin Lions Club wrapped up its 71st year of operations, held Sept. 13-15, and closed the gates at the Beckley Road fairgrounds.
That seems like a good time to remember that the late summer staple has remained a volunteer-driven event, giving dozens of local faith, civic and educational organizations a chance to participate – and is a significant source of fundraising for them. Many familiar faces are seen behind the grills and counters serving up recipes perfected in communal kitchens that are then transformed into eagerly-anticipated fairtime classics.
For instance, Superintendent of Schools Brian Benigni prepared fried dough alongside the Upbeat crew.
“Berlin is run by volunteers,” said Mayor Mark Kaczynski. “The greatest thing is that it’s a fundraiser … everybody has a booth here.”
Kaczynski said the massive effort that keeps the fair going matches the everyday volunteerism that keeps the town running.
As for the dozens of food choices, Berlin’s mayor said his favorite would have to be the American Legion’s shells and meat sauce. But the raised doughnuts and fried dough were top choices, too.
Vinny Trigila, commander of American Legion Post 68, said the fair is the group’s largest fundraiser of the year, supporting assistance for veterans’ utility bills and an annual scholarship for a Berlin High School graduate. It also helps the group connect with the community, both for recruitment and to show off the many events members hold in town.
At the Legion’s fair booth, “You work out by the window, you get to meet them all – senior citizens right down to the ones in the strollers,” Trigila said.
Other associations contributed to the fair by lending helping hands to the Lions, including Berlin High School’s Upbeat and Interact clubs. Students helped run food booths and helped direct people getting off the shuttle buses.
As a novel way of fundraising, students in the Interact Club could be seen pushing strollers packed with recyclables around the fairgrounds, keeping the bins from filling up and raising money through bottle returns to send students to leadership conferences and award scholarships.
“It just shows them it’s good to serve the community,” said Lisa Downey, the club’s advisor and a math teacher at BHS. “It also teaches them a lot about recycling.”
The students were motivated and Downey said they didn’t even require her direction, allowing her to focus on sorting through the flow of recyclables – and ward off the bees.
Karen Cote, founder of Hero Boxes – a local nonprofit that sends care packages to overseas service members – said the fair is a special time for her, since it introduces her to veterans excited about her efforts.
The first visitor to her table on Friday morning was a Vietnam veteran so impacted by the good will being shown to today’s soldiers that he began to cry. By the end of the conversation he pledged to return for the nonprofit’s annual box-packing event, scheduled for Nov. 9.
“This is the only booth at the whole fair where people cry,” Cote said.
In a memorable moment from last year’s fair, Cote said two visitors began singing the national anthem, silencing the entire area. After they subsided, Caitlin Williams, who served in Iraq, stopped by to ask about the commotion. She was so struck by Hero Boxes’ mission that she began volunteering and this year joined Cote behind the non-profit’s table.
“The fair is amazing, what a place to make connections when you’re a nonprofit,” Cote said.
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