By C.J. LOVELACE
5:16 PM EDT, October 6, 2012
Leaves are changing, temperatures are cooling and scarecrows from the annual Harvest Hoedown festival will be popping up in front yards all around the area.
It’s official: Fall is in the air.
For more than 15 years on the first Saturday in October, Williamsport’s Byron Memorial Park transforms into a festive array of fun for local families, complete with numerous activities for kids such as games, a petting zoo, face-painting, and stations for making scarecrows and pumpkin painting.
“It’s nice. The kids love it,” said Amanda Frey of Williamsport, who came out with longtime friend Dondee Bryan and Bryan’s 5-year-old daughter, Mackenzie Myers. “They get to come out here and make scarecrows and they have a blast. We’ve actually been looking forward to this for a couple weeks now.”
With people lining up before the event started at 10 a.m., organizers said both the scarecrow-making and pumpkin-painting areas were popular again this year with the hundreds of people who attended.
“When you ride down through Williamsport after the first Saturday in October, you see scarecrows everywhere, and you know it came from the hoedown,” event coordinator Leigh Ann Stotelmyer said. “And every one of those scarecrows represents somebody who donated money to the food bank.”
All of the proceeds from the event go to the Williamsport Food Bank, which is supported by 11 area churches that make up the Williamsport Ministerium, said Stotelmyer, who also serves as coordinator of the food bank.
Taking a break from helping dozens of kids make their life-size scarecrows, the Rev. Mark Sandell of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church said the event typically raises between $11,000 and $12,000, in addition to proceeds from food sales, a silent auction and about 6,000 pounds of donated food.
“We’re hoping from this day to sustain us for most of the year,” he said. “... We’ve seen a huge increase in those who have been coming to the food bank because a lot of people are underemployed.”
Numerous vendors lined Park Road and music played in the background all day. The food at the event also is a popular draw, especially the hand-cut french fries and homemade items, Stotelmyer said.
A swift, cool breeze blew through the park as Denise and Greg Keller of Hagerstown were enjoying the Christian tunes and food at a picnic table near the main pavilion. The couple said they try to attend the festival every couple of years.
“I think it’s really good for the community,” Greg Keller said.
The food bank also was selling ice cream, including a seasonal pumpkin flavor that Frey said was really good.
“And they make it right there in front of you,” she said.
Even though the area churches are the main support system for the food bank, the hoedown is a day that the community really helps make a difference for many less-fortunate families, Stotelmyer said.
“We’re not a hand-out, we’re a hand-up,” she said. “And we don’t care what their income is or how they live or where they live. What we care about is if they’re hungry, they can come to us and we’re going to help them.”
However, families must live in the Williamsport school district to be eligible for assistance from the food bank, she said.
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