Fair foodies get boost

The Shiawassee 4-H Food Stand at the county fairgrounds is about to be spruced up, thanks to Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat For Humanity’s donations, including from Mr. Owosso proceeds. From left: Bryan Marks, fair board member; Joe Hammontree, MSU Extension community nutrition instructor; Rhonda Stickel, Shiawassee 4-H Council president and fair board member; Justin Horvath, Mr. Owosso; Sue Osika, community engagement at Habitat; and Ric Crawford, fair manager and fair board member.

SHIAWASSEE TWP. — When Sue Osika saw on Facebook that Shiawassee 4-H was raising money to install a patio on the west side of its food stand at the Shiawassee County Fairgrounds, she thought, “That’s perfect.”

Osika, the community engagement official for Saginaw-Shiawassee Habitat For Humanity, had been thinking about the best way to spend some of the $44,000 raised for Habitat by the reigning Mr. Owosso, Justin Horvath, in the campaign leading up to his crowning at the Curwood Festival in June.

Now, here was a project that was needed and could be completed fairly inexpensively. And it would benefit a lot of people.

“We were very conscious during the Mr. Owosso campaign to let people know their money was going to stay in Shiawassee County,” Osika, who served as Horvath’s campaign manager, said Tuesday at the fairgrounds. “This is something everybody can appreciate.”

But she wanted the project to go further than a $2,000 west-side patio, with seating, landscaping, drainage and a retaining wall, paid for with Mr. Owosso dollars.

Osika is also arranging to use Habitat materials to perform improvements to the existing two-level deck on the east side of the building; give the indoor dining area a fresh coat of paint; make the threshold at the entry more handicap-accessible; and perform other upgrades. The value of the work is about $3,000.

With the county fair starting in just a couple of weeks, on Aug. 4, the patio project will have to wait until after the fair concludes. But completing the deck and painting is a different story. Osika said she is hoping to corral about 25 volunteers to power-wash, stain and repair the decks, and another 12 volunteers to paint the food-stand “lobby” before the fair begins.

The entire deck/painting job can be completed in one day, she said. A time and date haven’t been set yet, but will be soon. Osika said she would love to hear from anyone interested in helping out. Call her (989) 277-0201 or Joe Hammontree, the MSU Extension community nutrition instructor, at (989) 743-2253.

Hammontree manages the food stand, which operates during fair week and during weekend events at the fair grounds such as horse and dog shows for about six months out of the year. He said MSU Extension and Shiawassee 4-H are thrilled to receive assistance from Habitat.

The stand earns about $6,000 to $8,000 during fair week, but the proceeds are spent on 4-H programs from which children directly benefit, not on capital improvements, he said.

“We try to reinvest every penny in the kids,” Hammontree said, “so we can send them to summer camp, state shows and spin clubs (short-term programs). We don’t want to take away from our leadership programs.”

Rhonda Stickel, president of the Shiawassee 4-H council and fair board member, wrote to Osika after sharing Habitat’s plan with fellow council members that “everyone feels like we are dreaming.”

The improvements are definitely needed, Stickel and Hammontree said. During fair week, there’s a line of customers out the door and seating is a challenge. A new patio will help accommodate the heavy traffic.

“Seating is at a premium during fair week,” Hammontree said. “The more seats we have, the more people we can feed and the more money that we have coming into the 4-H program. This is going to add space and beautify what we already have.”

Shiawassee 4-H has 50 clubs and about 750 active members with a total reach of 3,500 children, he said. Each year at the fair, there are more than 850 youth exhibitors, most of them 4-H-ers.

The 4-H program is part of MSU Extension, and is not formally associated with the county fair. However, the fair board works closely with the 4-H clubs, offering support whenever possible, Hammontree said.

“We’ve talked about a patio on the west side on the fair board, asking ourselves what can we do to help,” fair board member Bryan Marks said. “But we as a fair board have so many things we have to do, so to get some money from Habitat — this to us is a huge breath of fresh of air. It allows us to focus on the other things that need to get done.”

Some 4-H members, along with adult volunteers, work at the food stand during fair week, grilling up burgers and fixing breakfast in the August heat. Fresh white paint will brighten their work environment, and the patio will help the operation run more smoothly.

“When Sue (Osika) suggested we help 4-H, I thought that was a great idea,” Horvath said. “Let’s do something that has a county-wide impact. What’s going to hit home with people? I thought the food stand was perfect. A great fit.”

Osika said Habitat plans to form a committee, composed of Habitat board members, Horvath, herself and other community members to consider how to spend the remaining Mr. Owosso money.

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