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SPIFFS making changes to survive

The Suncoast Association of Chinese Americans’ dragon is a big hit during the International Folk Fair Parade of Nations.

LARA CERRI | Times (2007)

The Suncoast Association of Chinese Americans’ dragon is a big hit during the International Folk Fair Parade of Nations.

ST. PETERSBURG

In 1976, as the United States observed its bicentennial, a new group in this city launched a celebration of the nation's diverse cultures.

It has been more than three decades since the St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society, better known as SPIFFS, first invited visitors to eat their way around the world at its annual springtime fair.

Today, in the wake of falling attendance and declining government and corporate financial support, SPIFFS is struggling to survive.

Next week, members will discuss its future at a meeting at the Sunshine Center. The public is invited.

Already, though, SPIFFS' leaders are proposing changes they hope will save the annual folk fair and other programs. Traditionally held in March, the fair will be moved to November, to avoid competing with popular events like the Festival of States and the Grand Prix.

Organizers say the move will better suit the thousands of Pinellas County schoolchildren who have attended over the years because the March event conflicts with FCAT preparation and exams.

Other changes are planned, as well. The folk fair, which for the past four years has been held at Vinoy Park, will be moved to Albert Whitted Park. The group's two-day Asian Pacific Rim Festival in Pinellas Park will be rescheduled from the fall to the spring.

New president Bill Parsons said he hopes the changes will help rejuvenate the organization. But does SPIFFS remain a viable concept?

"Some of our people are wondering that, too," Parsons said, adding that members of some original ethnic groups are aging. However, newer immigrant groups, including those representing Asian countries, are thriving, he said.

"We are hoping that we can continue to do this, especially for the schoolkids. We've had good results with the schoolkids, with about 8 to 9,000 visiting on the school days in March. But the general public, this year, in particular, was very bad for us and the weather was bad,'' Parsons said.

Executive director Rose Sugrive started with SPIFFS as a volunteer. "I strongly believe in the mission,'' said Sugrive, who was born in the Fiji Islands. "Everyone is rich in their own culture, but we are all one.''

SPIFFS offers a language bank with a mostly volunteer force of interpreters who assist in courts, hospitals, schools and throughout the community, she said. Its speakers' bureau is a valuable resource for schools, Sugrive added.

The organization, whose folk fair features international food, crafts, costumes and entertainment in a format of mini "villages,'' has had difficulties in the past. In the late 1990s, financial problems led to discussions of a possible hiatus for the folk fair or ending it altogether. The organization eventually sold a large building used as its headquarters.

Money is again a concern. "We have always applied for grants from the city and the county,'' Parsons said. "Last year, we received a little over $10,000 from the county.''

The organization might get only about $1,700 this year, he said. "We're also hoping for a city grant.''

In recent years, the fair has been nomadic. Tropicana Field worked well for a while, but became too expensive. Last year, rain and windy weather affected attendance at Vinoy Park. The new venue at Albert Whitted Park is also outdoors.

"Our member groups wanted us to try and find an indoor location. We tried very hard to do that,'' said Parsons, who took over recently as president following the resignation of Michael Morris, who is moving out of state. "We considered the Walter Fuller Park, which has some inside and some outside space, but we decided to remain downtown.''

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

If you go

The St. Petersburg International Folk Fair Society Inc. (SPIFFS) meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, in the ballroom of the Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N, St. Petersburg. E-mail folkfair@ij.net or go to spiffs.org. Call (727) 552-1896.

SPIFFS making changes to survive 07/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 11:11am]
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