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Posted: 09/19/12

Peach Festival a critical
fundraiser for locals

Observer Staff Writer
      Attendees at the 81st Peach Festival were collecting memories and aiding local organizations in collection of money for charity.
       The Romeo Lions Club states that about 75 percent of its revenue is generated from the Peach Festival. Gary Schocke, Peach Festival committee president, said this year was one of the better years for the club.
       "We increased in almost everything," Schocke said. "The fly-in breakfast was up, the car show was up, the beer tent was up."
       The Lions Club donates to various charities, such as Leader Dogs for the Blind, as well as providing assistance to local families and individuals.
       However, the club isn't the only local benefactor of one of the longest-running festivals in the state. The River of God Community Church on E. St. Clair has held a cafe fundraiser for the past decade during the Peach Festival weekend, serving items like pulled pork sandwiches, hot dogs and corn-on-the-cob at low prices.
       Jon Waters, senior pastor at River of God, said the church bought 120 pounds of pork and ran out of it by Sunday.
       "I think the main reason we did so good this year is because of the weather," he said. "We didn't have to open up on Monday because we sold out of everything, which is always a good thing for us as a church."
       The church uses the collected funds as part of its benevolence ministry, which helps feed needy community members as well as assisting with utility bills, doctor bills, rent or mortgage payments.
       Last year, about $25,000 was given through the ministry, with 25 percent of that generated from the Peach Festival. Given the amount of funding they pulled in this year, Waters said this year a portion of the money will be used to update the church's building.
       "I thought this year was one of the best," he said.
       Another traditional event that fared well this year was the annual used book sale held by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).
       Deborah Byks, treasurer of the AAUW's Romeo branch, said the event brought in the $4,000 it seeks to provide scholarships to local students. Of that amount, $3,000 goes toward Romeo students while another $1,000 goes to Macomb Community College.
       "One of our days was not quite as good as last year, but overall we made enough to give scholarships and a few other things we do," Byks said.
       She said this is the local branch's biggest fundraiser, which has been held for more than 30 years. The group receives book donations from the community while local churches offer space to organize and store the books until the sale.
       "We're really grateful that the community responds," Byks said. "They just make our sale possible."
       Reduced numbers
       Other groups did not experience the same success. The Masonic Lodge held its annual roasted chicken dinner to raise funds for scholarships, dyslexic programs and restoring the historic Gray's Opera House.
       Rob Wisnieski, a member of the Romeo Masonic Lodge, said the weather was perfect for the weekend, but their numbers were down this year. He speculates it was from the numerous festivals taking place the same weekend as the Peach Festival.
       "We were down almost half of what we made last year," he said, adding the group gave more than $2,000 in scholarships in 2011.
       The Knights of Columbus experienced a similar problem with its annual pasta dinner at St. Clement of Rome Church. Tony Bardozzi, a member of the Knights of Columbus, said the dinner brought in 290 people, down from the average of 350.
       "I think it had a lot to do with the fact that there were other festivals," he said. "With gas at $4.10 per gallon, they're going to go wherever is closer."
       He said the group collects funds to donate to various charities, with the Peach Festival raising about 25 percent of its revenue. They also split the money gained from the church's parking lot with the church.
       "We still think it's a good deal, we need to keep having this, but we just need to promote it more," he said.
       Other organizations and churches hold fundraisers through parking as well, charging festival attendees to claim spots in parking lots. Among the groups hosting these fundraisers are various teams from the Romeo High School.
       Greg Brynaert, athletics director, said this year's festival saw the boys' and girls' swim team, girls' basketball, boys' and girls' cross country, boys' tennis and the band working on behalf of the Lions Club.
       He said depending on how busy it is, the groups make between $700 to $800 during the weekend.
       "The money goes back into the community for the community, so we're excited to be able to have a small part in it," Brynaert said.

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