Festival offers more than Cupid
By ROBERT KING, Times Staff Writer
BROOKSVILLE -- As holidays go, Valentine's Day is usually considered an intimate occasion, most often celebrated by two lovebirds around candlelight. Rarely is it promoted as a community event or celebrated with a festival.
But that's just what happened Saturday in Brooksville during the Somebody Cares Valentine's Day and Freedom Festival -- an event that blended fun for the kids with giveaways and all the educational trappings of a health fair.
"We're sort of dusting off Valentine's Day," said Dennis Gomas, founder of Somebody Cares Hernando, which put on similar events last year before Christmas and the opening of the school year. Each has been notable for its giveaways.
At this Valentine's Day festival, held at the Jerome Brown Community Center, Somebody Cares gave away shoes and clothes, costume jewelry and assorted gifts to children and their families.
Yet the items weren't just given as simple handouts. Kids had to complete a 10-step process of tasks that included some fun items, such as making a Valentine's Day card, and some serious tasks, such as signing a pledge to do a good deed.
Kids who otherwise might not be able to afford a Valentine's Day gift for mom were toting away picture frames and lamps, metal basket sets and costume jewelry. There was even a table where the kids could get the items wrapped.
Though the gifts were relatively low-cost items donated by department stores, Gomas said, their value grows exponentially. "When a child gives it to mom, it's worth a million," Gomas said.
Eight-year-old Jordyn Story of Spring Hill made a Valentine's Day card for her grandmother in California using purple construction paper, a lacey heart cutout and glitter paste. "I like doing crafts, and I like God. And they did a church puppet show," she said.
Katie Moss of Brooksville brought her 7-year-old son, Dalton, to the event with one purpose in mind: She wanted him fingerprinted and videotaped as part of a child protection program. She got that done. But her son also picked up a free pair of tennis shoes.
"I think it's been great for the kids," Moss said. "They've really enjoyed it."
Along with all the goodies, adults could get a free HIV test (though results must be picked up at the Health Department), education about prenatal care for their babies and information about mental health support groups.
Helen Warren of Brooksville brought her four grandchildren to the event. As she hovered near the school readiness booth, she said, "It really helps kids and the community learn about what's going on."
Gomas said these events, staged quarterly by Somebody Cares, are a collaboration of public agencies, private companies, schools, churches and volunteer organizations.
Though an official count wasn't immediately available Saturday, Gomas estimated that 1,000 people passed through the community center during the four-hour event.
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