Nonprofits, merchants building bonds in the Merchants Building

Kim Shope, program manager for CASA/GAL, works the organization’s booth in the Hancock County Fair Merchants Building on Thursday. The agency was handing out free rulers, pens, candy, bookmarks, bracelets, along with information about its services. For many nonprofits, organizations and businesses, a booth at the fair brings the opportunity to reach members of the public who may be unfamiliar with their services. (Photo by Randy Roberts)


You may come to the fair for the rides, the animals and — of course — the food. But while you’re there, you can also learn about many community organizations, quite a few of them nonprofits.

An eclectic array have booths at the Merchants Building. Some, as “merchant” implies, are businesses, but government agencies and nonprofits are also well represented. Even the Ohio Department of Transportation has a small display with information on the Interstate 75 widening.

A lot of people are drawn to the building by “the free stuff,” said Christina Frankforther, who was with a group from Unique Choices coming out of the building mid-day Thursday. In her group’s case, that included free popcorn and pencils.

At the CASA/GAL booth, for example, program manager Kim Shope was giving out candy, pencils, pens, rulers and glow-in-the-dark bracelets. She said she always meets people previously unfamiliar with the organization, and CASA/GAL had already recruited four new volunteers by the second day of the fair.

She also loved the people-watching — including seeing families of children CASA has helped, out and about enjoying the fair.

Open Arms Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Services was also seeing people who were coming up “either showing appreciation” or saying that “they’re glad that we’re here,” said prevention coordinator Muriel Black. Sometimes, they shared that Open Arms had helped a loved one.

Children had the opportunity at the Open Arms booth to decorate paper shirts in a miniature model of the Clothesline Project, which works to raise awareness of violence against women.

Erin Gillespie, teen associate, and Joel Mantey, adult services librarian, were representing the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library. Community members could get bookmarks, stickers and suckers, as well as fliers listing library programs. A giveaway included a movie, a stuffed Snoopy and a Kindle Fire.

Gillespie said she encounters teens at the fair who aren’t those who regularly utilize the library.
Both she and Mantey showed animals at fairs when they were teenagers. So, Mantey said, it’s good to support agriculture.

He said people are aware of the public library, and while they know “that we’ve got books,” they may not know about the digital collections, or the programs community members can attend.

The Fort Findlay Playhouse had costumes and prop pieces on display, and a drawing for free tickets to upcoming shows.

Jim Toth, who has been acting, directing and serving on the playhouse board for 55 years, said the nonprofit has only had a booth at the fair for about three years, and aimed to get people to “know we exist.” He said it involves meeting “a whole new group of people” they don’t usually see at the theater and, if they gain even five or six new theater patrons, it’s worth their time.

“We’re reaching a different group of people,” said Darrell Morrison at the booth of Mission Possible, an interdenominational Christian ministry helping people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He said the organization often promotes its message at area churches, but this was a wider range of the community.

The Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services booth had bags with information on local agencies that could offer help to those who might need it.

“There have been a lot of conversations with parents” at the fair about how to talk with children about drugs, said board chairman John Kissh.

In addition to raising awareness, on a personal level, at the fair, “I get to see people that I hardly ever see,” Kissh said.

Hancock Public Health had brochures on a wide range of health-related topics including the opiate overdose-reversal drug naloxone, immunizations, and safe sleep for children.

Other “free stuff,” perhaps appropriate for a health department, included hand sanitizer, refrigerator thermometers and a card with a cartoon turtle that can be held in bathwater to determine if it’s at a safe temperature. The health department is holding drawings for different items throughout fair week — Wednesday’s giveaway was a car seat.

Epidemiologist Chad Masters said he’d heard from a father grateful for help his daughter, born prematurely, had received through Help Me Grow.

Both the Republican and Democratic parties also had booths where people could register to vote and get information about candidates.

Linda Casey, president of Republican Women of Hancock County, said she enjoyed “meeting all the people. I’m a talker.”

She said club members had been asking people if they were registered to vote — so far, she was happy to report, everyone had said yes. The message she emphasized was that, regardless of whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, “I want you to exercise your right to vote.”

After all, she said, there are places in the world where “people are dying to get to vote” so here, where that privilege is available, we have “no excuse.”

On the other side of the aisle — or, in this case, the other side of the building — Democratic Findlay City Council candidate Mary Harshfield said the fair brings people together, and she has had “wonderful” conversations with Republicans and independents.

Harshfield, who’d volunteered at the Hancock County Democrats booth long before she herself ran for office, said communities could better solve their problems if more people had these conversations with people from the other side.

Jonna Alexander was a volunteer for Hancock County Right to Life. She said their message was “not forced down their throat,” but literature is available for those who would like to pick it up.

Diane Risner was representing Cornerstone Baptist Church. She said their purpose for being at the fair is to tell people that they can handle the truth: the truth being “Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. … He will save you. … That’s the message we want to get out.”
Trinity Baptist Church was also represented.

“We have bracelets with the plan of salvation,” said church member Angie Gentry.
As children stopped by her booth, looking at their stamped pennies, she told them, “And you know what these are? The Ten Commandments.”

She said she likes, at the fair, “running into old friends” as well as meeting new people.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jenera and its sister church, Immanuel Lutheran in Findlay, had brochures, pencils and a drawing for a free Bible. Volunteer Norma Rader said, as fairgoers stop by, they’re asking if they have a church. Most do.

Businesses were, of course, also well represented.

Among them was The Courier, where fairgoers can pick up different items including two kinds of fans. At its booth, publisher Karl Heminger said he liked, at the fair, “just being able to talk to customers.”

And Casey Calverley at American Windows and Siding said the fair offers an “opportunity to meet new people. Lots of people.”

Lisa Newell was there representing Tupperware, and said she has gotten bookings for Tupperware parties through her booth.

Her favorite part about the fair, though?

“I love the food,” she said. “I’m not going to lie.”

Arthurs: 419-427-8494
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