WILKES-BARRE — Greeted by a giant inflatable turkey, getting a free cupcake, donning a “Junior Trooper” sticker from State Police, and winning stuffed dinosaurs — that was all before Miriam Rivera and her two tykes even got into the gym, where the real fun began, including 400 free turkey dinners with all the fixings.
“This is my first Harvest Festival,” Miriam said as Jahmarre Gibson, 3, sipped on free apple cider and Khalif Wiggins, 6, gyrated to the DJ’s tunes.
“It’s pretty cool,” she smiled. “There are a lot more people than I expected. I didn’t know they put so much into this.
The seventh annual Harvest Festival was, like all the others before it, arranged through Wilkes-Barre Area School District’s FACES program, short for Family and Community Enrichment Services. While the event always includes games and snacks kids can get for free, the trick is in the tickets.
Families receive tickets for visiting any of the agencies that set up throughout the gym. School Psychologist Beth Ann Owens said there were about 40 agencies this year, and a good representation lined the hallway to the gym, including the Pennsylvania State Police, the Osterhout Free Library, Boy Scouts of America and Geisinger Health.
The goal has always been to connect families with agencies that may be able to help them, but the smiles on most of the faces suggested the swag successfully hid the real benefits of participating.
Tickets from the agencies could be exchanged for pizza and snacks. There were also more than 20 gift baskets and 30 some bags of bonuses to be won by putting tickets in for a drawing.
The event ran from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., and people were already lined up out to the street almost as soon as it opened.