It seemed like every square foot of the YMCA’s soccer fields had a booth surrounded by children and their parents Tuesday afternoon at this year’s Earth Day celebration.
Keep Liberty Beautiful Director Sara Swida said the eighth annual event included 72 booths manned by volunteers from businesses and organizations that provided environmental education for children and adults.
Swida said she appreciated the day’s weather, which included a sunny sky, moderate temperatures and light wind. She said that two years ago, the winds were so high that booths toppled one after another.
She also was grateful for two days of solid sunshine to dry up most of the soggy soil in the soccer fields.
“We started out our first year in Bradwell Park with only 20 booths,” Swida said. “We had a nice crowd, so we did it again the following year and added onto it. It just kept getting bigger after that. There are not a lot of places where we can do this now. We’re really glad the YMCA lets us do this here.”
She said this year’s event offered many of the same features as last year, including door prizes, games, children’s activities, food and music by 3rd Class Citizens.
Volunteer Charm Reed manned a booth dedicated to recycling and talked enthusiastically about the importance of recycling common materials.
Her booth was covered with items made from recycled materials, including a 24-inch Christmas tree ring, wooden clothes pins, a welcome mat — even an ashtray made from printed circuit boards.
Abe Nadji, an engineer with the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission, demonstrated how and where storm water runoff can cause environmental harm.
Christina Anthony, the president of United Military Care, displayed a raised, boxed garden that she said her organization gives to redeploying soldiers.
“These are our welcome-home gardens,” Anthony said, displaying a box of tiny potted plants — jalapenos, oregano, cilantro and mint. “We teach our (military) families how to be frugal. With this raised garden, they can grow their own herbs and spices, and when they leave for a new assignment, they can take it with them.”
Many children seemed to particularly enjoy the booths where they could go fishing, get temporary tattoos and get their faces painted.
Volunteers from Target manned the “tattoo” booth, where Sandra Foster applied a temporary tattoo on the hand of her granddaughter, Cheyanne Foster, 5.
Not far away, Troy Cayo, 6, sat patiently as Sarah McPherson painted his face with what first looked like a blond beard. She then began applying a cream-colored paint to his eyebrows, causing onlookers to wonder what Troy was about to become.
“I thought she was giving him a beard, but I’m not so sure now,” said Daniel Clark, board chairman of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce. “All these booths right here are manned by Young Adult Liberty Leaders. We call them ‘Y’ALL.’ They’re high school juniors and seniors from each of the local high schools. They’ve been involved in several community events and programs like Christmas in the Park, Great American Cleanup and now Earth Day. It’s a leadership program put on by the chamber.”
Around 4 p.m., Reed began borrowing children from their parents, arming them with anything they could bang together or rattle to make noise as she prepared them for the first-ever Earth Day parade.
“We’ve got a coastal erosion display this year that shows you how water affects our coast,” Swida said, then pointed to a group of young men wearing costumes as they walked by with a following of young children. “We’ve also got some new critters this year. We’ve got a frog, a turtle, a recycle bin and a ‘bagman.’ He’s wearing 500 plastic grocery bags, which is what the average consumer uses in a year. We encourage all consumers to turn in those bags to recycle at local stores like Kroger and Target, who will take them.”
Moments later, Reed led children around the grounds in a clamorous parade that sometimes included moms pushing strollers and some of the animated critters, whose clumsy costumes made it difficult to keep up the pace.
The impromptu parade moved down rows, weaving between booths as it picked up more marchers along the way.
By 4:30 p.m., the crowd was too big to move through it freely, and kids were getting separated from the group. Reed quickly regrouped. She stopped in front of the Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation stage area for some lively dancing.