When the fair comes to town, the first images conjured up in one's mind usually are of children laughing, cotton candy and balloons, stuffed animals, fun-filled rides and games.
But when the Alachua Baptist Association finds out the dates for the annual county fair, church volunteers gear up for an entirely different aspect of fair life _ that of feeding, clothing and sharing the Gospel with the fair workers.
What those ministering see behind the scenes of the laughter, popcorn and cotton candy at the fair is a great need that they can help alleviate for at least a couple of weeks a year _ that of hunger, a lack of sufficient clothing and spiritual need.
"We are doing this because these are individuals with . . . needs. This is the least of them that is being ministered to like the Lord says in Matthew Chapter 25, to minister to the people who are hurting. These fair employees are people without a regular job or income and they move from city to city," said Joe Maddox, director of missions with the Alachua Baptist Association, an organization in Inverness that involves several Southern Baptist churches.
Maddox said that the churches , and coordinator Colan Dracy, start the week before the fair feeding, clothing and ministering to the fair workers.
"We fed them several meals. When we fed them on Wednesday night for supper there were only about 40 people there," Maddox said. But by Saturday night there were about 60 people, according to volunteers.
"We also give the adults health kits, with personal hygiene items, and for the children and youth we also have kits with toys and personal hygiene items, which are all greatly welcomed," Maddox said.
In addition to these items, Maddox said, association members, along with coordinator Dracy, have received nearly 300 pairs of jeans and a variety of clothing items to give to the fair workers and their families. Fair workers who are interested are given a Bible or a tract with the Gospel.
"There is no doubt the Gospel is definitely being presented to them, whether it is through a cup of cold water, a Gospel tract, Bible or personal needs. What we are doing here is planting the seed," Maddox said.
He said that for the first time in four years of ministering this way at the fair the association has three couples actually camping with the fair workers and running a "fun wagon," which serves cookies and coffee to the workers.
"They are busy just sharing with and helping the fair workers with their needs. This is where the ministering is taking place, behind the scenes," Maddox said.
"We don't plant a seed, water it and actually reap the results in two weeks, but we are planting a lot of seeds," he said.
The association also has a booth at the fair where it is giving out "salvation" bracelets and doing face painting for the children, according to Maddox.
First Baptist Church members Barbara Bokanoski, left, and Sharon Cordwell serve dinner to people setting up the Citrus County Fair last week as Al Sukut, left background, and Roy Husselton look on. The effort by the church and others in the Alachua Baptist Association also provides clothes, toiletries and shoes to fair workers.