BANGOR, Maine — There’s still some snow on the ground and the grass has yet to turn green, but the 35th annual Spring Fair has sprung up inside the Bangor Auditorium.
The largest annual fundraiser for the Bangor YMCA got under way Friday, the first of three days of games, rides, contests, balloons, concessions and food.
“This winter has been really long, so if you can’t play outside, come here and play inside,” said Peggy Wentworth, Bangor YMCA’s director of operations and fair organizer for 21 years.
Approximately 600 staff members and volunteers help plan, set up, run and then shut down the fair, which takes six months to plan and organize, 4½ days to set up and about 4½ hours to disassemble.
“We start setting up on Monday and we typically tear it all down on Sunday night. We’ll be out by 8:30,” said Mike Seile, the CEO of Bangor YMCA. “And we have all hands on deck for these three days.”
And it’s well worth it.
“This is the only inside carnival I know of in the area. It was originally a YWCA fundraiser and it’s now the largest fundraiser we have each year to help support scholarships for child care, summer camps and Y memberships,” Seile said. “It’s about a $30,000 fundraiser for us, and that’s about 10 percent of our annual fundraising.
“We typically get between 4,000 and 4,500 people over three days and we’re hopeful to have more this year because we did more marketing and promotions as far up as Millinocket and Dover-Foxcroft.”
Wentworth arrived at 7:30 a.m. Friday and figured she wouldn’t leave until around 8:30 p.m. That’s a typical day for most of the people running the fair, which features 11 rides, nine games or contests, and concessions that include pulled-pork sandwiches brought in every four hours by Texas Roadhouse.
“We try to have games and rides that hit the age ranges from 1 to 12,” said Seile. “But we also try to offer stuff for the families and adults like the food and the mechanical bull.”
Fair-goers have new features supplied by North American Amusements to try this year, including bumper cars, a mechanical bull, an inflatable roller-coaster obstacle course, video games and actual prizes for contests. An old standby, the merry-go-round, is back after a two-year absence. Other attractions include a bounce house, the tea cup ride, a mini rocking Viking ship, a hammer swing contest, the skyfighter ride, and an inflatable slide.
Tim Pert of Penobscot and his wife, Jennifer, got to the fair early with son Brady, 4, and daughter Cadence, 2, to avoid the larger weekend crowds.
“Brady likes the rides the best. I just like seeing the smiles on my kids’ faces,” said Pert, who remembers going to the fair as a child with his parents.
Wuanita Quinn of Bangor has her own favorite fair feature.
“I like the cotton candy the best. It’s fun for the adults, too,” said Quinn, who was part of a group of three adults and three children.
The fair also has a separate section run by the YMCA’s Caring Connections organization, which provides programs and services to battle breast and cervical cancer. The section, located at the auditorium’s main lobby, features a used-book and books-on-tape sale, a contest to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar, a quilt raffle, and a silent auction with items ranging from 500 gallons of home heating oil to jewelry, beer, wine, homemade crafts, and art.
Friday was community outreach day at the fair, which made for a bustle of activity between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.
“We invite over 300 people from special needs, child care and group homes to attend this fair today for three hours with free tickets,” said Wentworth. “The economy’s bad, and more and more people are asking us for help. Gas prices, fuel prices, food prices — as the economy worsens, we have more need for our services, and that makes an event like this even more important.”
This is the 15th fair for YMCA membership director Marie Stewart, who said the children make it well worth all the effort.
“I think it’s the faces of the kids when they walk in and see all these rides and their eyes get really wide,” she said when asked what her biggest reward is. “And knowing the money helps us provide services to people who need them in this community.”