There may be no better place in the Midwest to get your fill of custom T-shirts, essential oils, face-painting, kettle corn and occasional political candidates than the Labor Day weekend Santa-Cali-Gon arts and crafts festival in Independence.
An afternoon at Santa-Cali-Gon is an opportunity for the festival-goer to take care of Christmas shopping and sign up for deck and driveway repair estimates.
But with almost a quarter-million visitors prowling the booths, the annual event also is a prime fundraising opportunity for churches, schools and Boy Scout troops, which can fund a year’s worth of youth activities.
Sitting Sunday on prime real estate at the corner of Maple Avenue and Liberty Street, Chris Straub served pulled pork sandwiches to a steady line of customers who were helping to generate about 90 percent of the revenue that Troop 865 needs for the year. The location, and the quality of the product, means that boys can go to summer camp and participate in other high adventure activities.
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Persistence and planning is the secret to succeeding at Santa-Cali-Gon, said Straub, who serves on the troop’s governing committee.
“We’ve been here 15 years, and if you keep coming back you get better spots,” Straub said.
Eagle Scout Colby Mock said he’s seen the payoff in his own life.
“We got to go to Colorado and it was awesome,” Mock said. “We couldn’t have done it without Santa-Cali-Gon.”
Not far from the iconic statue of Harry Truman talking his daily constitutional, Kelly O’Connor served up hot dogs that will pay for a trip to Jefferson City for 31 fourth-graders at Nativity of Mary School. Harry likely would have agreed with the civics lesson grilled into every dog sold at the booth.
“It’s nice for (the students) to get out of the classroom and see how laws are made,” O’Connor said. “We want them to learn about the state of Missouri.”
Phil Woody, an assistant scoutmaster at Troop 382, is planning to take up to 20 boys to the H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation near Osceola, Mo., next summer with proceeds from the troop’s funnel cake tent.
“This is how they earn the money,” Woody said. “If it wasn’t for this, a lot of the boys couldn’t afford to go.”
Jorjana Pohlman, secretary to the board of Messiah Lutheran School in Independence, said her group uses the money for computers and other technological upgrades for the school’s 140 students, who range in age from pre-school through eighth grade. But the mini-doughnut stand also is a marketing opportunity.
“This gives us a chance to work with people in the community and get our names out there,” Pohlman said.
But all said that having the right product, prepared well, is critical for fund-raising success.
Straub said the pork in his troop’s sandwiches was lovingly smoked and pulled over a full weekend.
O’Connor contended that the hot dogs at her booth were the best at the festival because they were freshly grilled.
Woody insisted that his funnel cakes were made from scratch and “mixed by Boy Scouts.”
But Pohlman, the purveyor of miniature doughnuts, was certain she had the festival food secret for a successful fundraiser.
“You have to have a fried angle,” she said.
Santa-Cali-Gon Days wraps up today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Independence Square between Truman and Walnut streets.