Westminster's 26th annual Fallfest drew its biggest crowds ever, thanks to lots of sunshine - generating profits that enabled record-setting contributions to its four designated charities.
"It was a great Fallfest," said Ronald J. Schroers, Westminster's administrator of recreation and parks and the event chairman for 10 years.
"It was a record-setter - the most money we've ever given out," he said.
Each of the four designated groups received an $8,500 donation at a ceremony Tuesday night, Schroers said. Westminster Fallfest Inc. was incorporated this year as a not-for-profit group, he said.
This year's event at the Westminster City Playground on Sept. 23-26 included rides, food, games, family activities and music - drawing more than 40,000 people to the county's largest charitable event.
"That's a conservative estimate," Schroers said.
But for years, he said, "most people didn't know it was a charity event. That's why I think it's been building: Word's gotten out that it's a charity event, that the money they spend goes back into the community."
The four charities selected this year were Habitat for Humanity of Carroll County, Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., Mission of Mercy and the Kiwanis Club of Westminster, he said. The organizations put in more than 350 hours of volunteer work for the festival.
Fallfest also generated money for other causes - such as the American Diabetes Association, with a pie-eating contest, and for the Estonia Sister City Partnership, a cultural exchange program with Westminster, Schroers said. The area for nonprofit groups' booths was extended this year to enable about 30 to participate.
"The community has rallied around the Westminster Fallfest to make it what it is," he said. "That's what keeps us going."
Joan S. McKee, deputy director of the nonprofit Human Services Programs, said the agency will use its money to establish a Fallfest Emergency Fund "to be used for clients with immediate needs that cannot be filled elsewhere."
This could be almost anything, she said, something unexpected that is not covered by any emergency program, or needs such as housing, heat or medical treatment not fully covered by other programs.
"We are very pleased and gratified to have that money," said McKee, whose group of volunteers operated the Kids Court at Fallfest, where for $1 children had a variety of games and activities. "We needed about a week after to recover."
The program was also a beneficiary last year, she said, when it received $6,000 that was used for its Domestic Violence Safe House, now being readied with furniture and curtains while awaiting state operating funds.
The 10-year-old Mission of Mercy operates its free mobile health clinic once a week in Westminster at the HSP location at 10 Distillery Drive, and serves those without health insurance at other locations in the county. Habitat for Humanity, an international, faith-based organization that builds affordable homes, opened its first house in Carroll this year.
"This is the third year that we have participated as being one of the charities, and we're very thankful to the Fallfest for allowing us to do this," said Colleen M. Cole, president of the Kiwanis Club of Westminster
The club was founded in 1932 and does volunteer work in the community with an emphasis on children and young adults, she said, and has its leadership-oriented Key Clubs at two Westminster high schools and a Circle K Club at McDaniel College. The club shared its check with another club, the Greater Westminster Kiwanis Club.
For Fallfest, Cole said their volunteers arrived at 6 a.m., helping set up for the craft vendors, blowing up balloons - "whatever they needed us to do ... because that's what it takes to make this happen."
Four charities have been named for next year's Fallfest, which is always held the last full weekend in September, Schroers said. The beneficiaries, selected from among 15 applicants by secret ballot of the 11-member committee, are Residents Attacking Drugs, Carroll Hospice, Habitat for Humanity and Mission of Mercy.
"It was a tough one this year," he said, with very close votes. "A tough call."