Festival gives back to community
While the Maple Leaf Festival is only a two-day event, its impact lingers 365 days a year.
Each year money raised during the festival is used to support numerous local groups and organizations. This year's festival, which is set for Saturday and Sunday, could mean the difference between a group taking a trip or staying home.
"Each year we see the festival growing larger, which means more local groups can benefit," said Steve Honomichl, chair of the Maple Leaf Festival Committee. "It's a win-win situation for the community."
In the past year, the committee has given out more than $10,000 to community groups, said Betsy Kaplan, committee treasurer. Last year the group donated $8,000, nearly doubling the amount donated just two years earlier. However, each year more groups are turning to the committee for help. In order to meet the continuing community need, Kaplan said the festival must expand to take in more revenue.
"I enjoy seeing the different groups being helped," Kaplan said. "But were not going to be able to give out this much money next year unless we grow."
The committee's primary source of revenue is booth fees for the festival, Kaplan said. The more area the city allows for booths, the more money can be generated for donations. Last year the committee also began selling Maple Leaf Festival prints painted by local artist Tom Russell as another way to earn money.
"The whole community has an influence over the festival and whether it grows," Kaplan said. "It really needs to be a community effort."
This year the committee has provided 16 groups with funds for projects ranging from a Spanish trip for the Baldwin High School Spanish Club, to a new computer program for the Baldwin Recreation Commission. Other groups benefiting from festival donations include the Baldwin Ball Association, the Baldwin City Library, Baldwin High School's After Prom Party and the American Legion.
Monte Ezell, director of the recreation commission, said he asked the committee for funding to purchase needed software to help with arranging scheduling and registration. Ezell said that without the committee's assistance, the commission would not have been able to afford the program for a couple of years.
"It has really helped us a lot, and it's designed to grow with us," Ezell said. "We hope to offer electronic registration for recreation programs in the future."
Local organizations are also able to gain money through the festival in other ways, Kaplan said. Many operate food booths during the festival, which is why festival goers don't see commercial food booths, other than those from businesses located in the downtown area. The committee restricts outside food booths to allow community groups to make more money. Other groups earn money by manning street barricades, taking parking money and selling tickets for the carnival.
After joining the committee a year and a half ago, Stacy Cohen said she was surprised that the festival helps so many youth in the community.
"At first, I thought they just organized the festival each year," Cohen said. "I didn't realize the group's whole purpose was to raise money from the festival to help community organizations."
Committee member Sharole Prahl said the festival also serves as positive public relations for the town, as well as a boost to local businesses that rely on Maple Leaf for a percentage of yearly profits. She admitted that traffic and crowds during Maple Leaf weekend can be frustrating for some local residents, but she emphasized the overall value of the festival to Baldwin City.
"When you see how the entire community benefits, it's all worth it," Prahl said.
Organizations interested in receiving funding need to fill out an application form, which will then be reviewed by the committee. For more information, contact Sharon Vesecky at 594-2493.