Local nonprofits rely on fair food sales

Proceeds from booths go toward charitable organizations, scholarships, more

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor

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RIDGEFIELD — As the Clark County Fair concluded Sunday, food vendors counted up their sales of elephant ears, corn dogs and all those other festival goodies.

For the handful of food booths still run by nonprofit organizations at the fair, their sales would be vital for local charities.

“It’s 10 very intense days,” said Ridgefield resident Netta Groat, who manages the Community of Christ church food booth. “We do no other fundraisers.”

The church has an army of pie-baking volunteers, most of them older women, who bake at the church just down the road from the fairgrounds. The fair booth sells slices of pie, ice cream and sandwiches, and the church uses the proceeds to send kids to camp, supply children with backpacks and help the homeless, among other charitable and outreach ventures, Groat said.

Most nonprofit food vendors interviewed Sunday said their sales this year were about the same or a little bit better than last year, and that they faced some unexpected lulls and rushes.

“This year has been sort of hit or miss,” said Edie Brannon, president of the Ridgefield Lions Club. The weekends, especially the fair’s final weekend, were busy for the club’s booth, but midweek, sales were disappointing, she said. The trend might have had to do with entertainment provided around the weekends that attracted big crowds.

When country music act Montgomery Gentry performed the night of Aug. 9, a Sunday, “we saw such a draw,” Brannon said. When customers came up to the concessions stand, “they all had belt buckles. They all had (cowboy) hats. They all had $100 bills.”

The Lions Club booth, home of the double-patty, 1/2 -pound Lion Burger, is run entirely by volunteers. Booth proceeds go to a number of groups, including the Washington State School for the Blind, 4-H, the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge and local Boy Scouts. They also pay for local high school scholarships.

The nonprofit food vendors at the fair have dwindled in number over the years. They don’t have to worry about sales tax, but the fair still collects 25 percent of what they earn, said Salmon Creek resident David Bryant, who sold corn dogs and fish and chips Sunday for the Gateway Shrine Club, which benefits Shriners Hospitals for Children.

Bryant and the three other men volunteering at the stand also dress as clowns — named Bumps, Meatball, Seaweed and Swabby — while they visit children at Shriners facilities each month. Through fundraising, the club is able to give about $8,000 to $10,000 to the hospital.

Though the nonprofit doesn’t make gobs of cash at the fair, Bryant added, it’s still worth having a booth because of the exposure it brings to the organization.

Job skills

Nearby, girls buzzed back and forth behind the Job’s Daughters booth as they worked to supply customers with drinks and their specialty: Irish baked potatoes. The nonprofit organization has been selling food at the fair since 1975.

The Masonic-sponsored group teaches leadership and public-speaking skills to girls and young women ages 10 to 20. On Sunday, some girls washed and wrapped potatoes while others worked the cash register.

“This is high sales at a fast pace,” said Patricia Crouse of Troutdale, Ore., guardian of Bethel 38, the local Job’s Daughters group. She tells her girls to use her as a reference when they apply for their first jobs.

Owen Day, 15, of Vancouver was learning similar skills at the stand run by the Vancouver chapter of DeMolay International, a youth fraternity that “teaches us how to be productive and successful in life while having fun doing it,” he said.

It was his third year working concessions at the fair, and “This year blows last year out of the water,” Day said. The group’s big product is a breaded and deep-fried blooming onion. Day said sales might have been helped along by new menus or the booth’s brand-new sign, which includes a photo of the blooming onion. The economy is doing better, too, he added.

He said he’s glad sales improved this year because his chapter was low on cash. The organization spends its money on community service events, other events that are just for fun, and attendance to DeMolay’s statewide annual convention, Day said.

Though Day plans to be a pilot someday, he said he’s learned valuable business lessons while working concessions: Keep food stations clean, never turn your back to a customer and “Never show weakness during a rush — that’s a big one.”