Even though I’ve lived in Connecticut for three years, the Big E, also known as The Eastern States Exposition or New England’s Great State Fair, had yet to make my “to do” list. Legends of super-sized, gluttonous food, livestock, musical entertainment and state buildings equipped with their local notorieties had yet to tempt my interest ... until last weekend.
I was asked to help the Suffield Rotary Club by working their annual Amber Alert booth in the big white tent behind the Connecticut Building. With the Rotary motto being, Service Above Self, it seems appropriate that Rotary chapters all over New England volunteer for the duration of the Big E (Sept. 14-30).
Children's information is put into a national database, and parents and guardians get identification cards of their children. The first identification card is free; additional cards are $2. A single form with minimal information is completed by the parent or guardian, then height and weight is done by a volunteer. A photograph of the child is taken, then their information is put into a national database.
All day, streams of parents continued to flow in. I have a whole new appreciation for professionals working in photo studios. Some children were terrified of the process, screaming and crying while looking at mama for comfort. I think they thought I was the devil camera lady.
You can compare their grimaces to the anticipation just prior to a long needle at the pediatrician's office. These children just took a little more time. Stuffed animals were used as a distraction. I had to get up from my chair and squat at their eye level to talk. Jumping off topic, asking about their temporary frog tattoos, siblings, their favorite animal, food or color usually worked ... anything to get their minds off the unfamiliar environment.
I particularly enjoyed interacting with the first-time parents and grandparents. Seeing the excitement and joy with all the “firsts” of new babies brought back so many fond memories of when my husband and I had our first baby. They giggled when the baby threw up, took pictures of me taking pictures and had a stroller packed like they were going to Europe for the summer. By the time the third baby comes along, baby throw up isn’t funny, the camera is forgotten at home and your purse becomes the diaper bag.
It was impressive how many parents took advantage of this wonderful program. There was always a line, yet enough volunteers that kept it moving like a well-oiled machine. There was also enough family dynamic with elevated entertainment levels. There was the token grandmother where discipline was no secret, the enabling mother who used cookies and ice cream to temp and parents bickering over how many ID cards to purchase for favored inlaws. There was never a dull moment.
Taking a break was a bit challenging considering how busy it was. Yet, I did manage to get away to grab an unhealthy-sized portion of nourishment while drinking in a little of the Big E culture. I particularly enjoyed passing the inebriated Neanderthal-type gentlemen enjoying foot-long turkey drumsticks. The novelty and shock wore off after seeing it a half dozen times.
When I headed back to the tent, the new shift of Rotary volunteers had arrived. I had to pause and appreciate the dedication and commitment the Rotary members have for the Amber Alert program. Organizing volunteers around the clock for two weeks for the sake of our children's safety is not only impressive, it’s humbling.
For Amber Alert cards, stop by the Rotary International booth, located in the white tent directly behind the Connecticut building at The Big E, which runs until Sept. 30.