Members of the Statesboro First Baptist Church congregation, along with local dentists, doctors and medical personnel, met needs of visiting fair workers from Amusements of America last week.
More than 200 Amusement workers were treated Tuesday to a lunch of steak, baked potato, salad and homemade dessert, provided and prepared by church members. The workers chose new pillows or blankets, also donated by church members, while waiting to be served.
During the fair week, about 45 Amusement staff members were screened and 30 seen by local dentists who volunteered their time. Dental work takes place in a small unit provided by the Baptist Mobile Health Ministry of the Georgia Baptist Convention.
Also this year, 11 patients were treated by local doctors who also volunteered their time.
“Doctors and dentists from our community have been very generous with their time to volunteer for these services,” said Ricky Allen, First Baptist Minister of Education/Outreach and organizer of FBC’s fair ministry.
“Our purpose for this ministry is to let people know that God loves them, and we love and appreciate them. It’s a way to give back to the fair workers,” Allen said.
The church’s fair ministry began in 1999 under the tenure of Dr. Bill Perry, who served as pastor of First Baptist from 1981-2004.
Perry explained: “When I was a little boy, the lady who helped us at home left us to become a cook for fair workers. Ever since then, I’ve had a heart for fair workers.
“They’re nomadic; they don’t really have a home. It’s hard to see doctors that way. It’s just a built-in situation to show Christian love to a group of people,” he said. “We brainstormed, and people in the community and church were enthusiastic about it, and that’s how it began.”
And church members are still enthusiastic about it. Scores of them bought new pillows and blankets to donate, and women’s missionary groups baked and sliced homemade desserts for all. Susan Allen, FBC Children’s Minister, served alongside her husband, Ricky.
Volunteers grilled steaks for hours, and First Baptist ministers, adults, youth and children manned the serving line, drink counter and dessert table and visited with lunch patrons.
Dominic Vivona, one of five Vivona brothers who owns Amusements of America and has been in the fair business since 1940, said they look forward to coming to Statesboro every year.
“I brag on you all year long,” said his wife, Helena. “I wish more communities did this for us.”
Jane Vivona, Phil Vivona’s wife, agreed.
“We get here and we say, ‘What day are we going to have lunch?’ We very much appreciate the dentists and doctors.”
“We work seven days a week,” Phil said, “putting up the rides, doing the fair, taking them down, driving to the next place. People don’t have a chance to see a doctor.”
Dominic added, “This fair gets better and better every year. The Kiwanis do a great job here. The community really comes together.”
“Even at our age, we still enjoy this,” said Phil, in the business since 1953. “Kids come out with parents, screaming, happy, eating all the food.”
The Vivonas are proud to provide entertainment to families and communities. They also enjoy giving back to the community by hiring local workers and shopping and eating locally when they come to town.
According to Ricky Allen, local, temporary workers are hired to set up, take down and operate fair rides, and the Kiwanis also hire custodial and housekeeping help.
“We serve them all,” he said.
Like Nikki, who lives in a nearby county, whose Mom and sister Chrissy travel with the fair year-round.
“I just work this week,” said Nikki, “but my Mom’s been with the fair for six years.”
Nikki looks forward to the meal each year.
“I always think, ‘Oh, yeah, they have good steak for us.’ ”
Casey, who has been with Amusements for 17 years, agreed.
“We stay on the road so much, we rarely get a home-cooked meal,” he said.
Family members Kita and Tiesha, with the fair for two years and one year, respectively, enjoyed dining with brother Casey.
“My mom and dad met while working at the fair and got married in New York between fairs,” said 21-year-old carnival employee Hollis, who grew up in the fair. “I’ve done this my whole life.”
Hollis also looks forward to coming to the Statesboro fair and summed up the goal of First Baptist Church’s fair ministry: “This is the only place that loves on us and shows us so much hospitality.”