LIMA — Two hours before the sun came up at the Allen County Fairgrounds on Thursday, David Briggs and his crew of Bath school volunteers worked to get breakfast on the table.
Another crew, including his wife Jennifer, would work late into the night, cleaning up after another busy dinner rush.
This is the life for volunteers at several school concessions stands during fair week: Long hours, messes and hungry crowds; all to raise money for their schools and band programs.
“At the end of the day, most of the time we are tired and ready to go,” said David Briggs, who has headed Bath concessions for three years. “There never seems like there are enough volunteers, but we always seem to get it done.”
Bath is joined by Elida, Perry and Spencerville schools to run food concessions at the fair. Allen East parents sell drinks to benefit their school.
The concessions offer up something different from the traditional corn dogs, cotton candy and funnel cakes. Instead, customers find daily specials, baked steak, chicken and noodles over mashed potatoes, and chicken dinners.
Bath and Perry get many in for breakfast. Pam Fleck, whose grandchildren show animals, enjoyed a breakfast sandwich from the Bath Wildcat Den Thursday. She finds herself there a lot.
“The food is just good. You get a variety, not just greasy foods,” she said. “Every now and then we need our fair food, but this is like being at home.”
The concessions are the largest fundraisers for the programs and bring in big money. Bath sometimes raises more than $30,000 for various educational things. The Elida Band Boosters set a $10,000 goal. Assistant band director Darrell Bryan, who has worked the booth for more than 30 years, says the hard work is worth it.
“You do it for the love and loyalty for the band,” he said. “But you are on your feet all the time and tired throughout the day.”
The weather this year has been good to the cooks, but Bryan remembers some very hot and sweaty days of the past. The smell and feel of bacon grease overcame the Perry booth. Betty Gwinn arrived at 5:30 a.m., keeping everyone in step and occasionally being called on to fix an issue with the cash register. She’s been doing it for 12 years.
“I do it to give back to the school. I am a firm believer in community service,” she said. “When my kids were in school, they were here every day too.”
Students do their share of work. It’s required of Spencerville band members. With the booth located under the grandstand, students are often sent up to sell during events. If they don’t, they have “Grandma” Kathleen Meyer to answer to.
“I could not ask for better workers,” she said.
Meyer started working the booth when her son, now 22, played in the band. This year, she’s in charge of organizing her workers. She arrives at 9 a.m. and sometimes doesn’t leave until midnight.
“I really enjoy it and enjoy helping all of my kids,” she said with no talk of stopping any time soon. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll keep going until my great-great-grandchildren are in the band.”