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Care Fair a big hit at Tropicana

Christina Huckaby had to take a day off from work Saturday to take her 5-year-old son Dakota to the third annual Back to School Care Fair.

For the single mother with no medical insurance, a day off and the hours standing in line were well worth it to get Dakota a free physical, the immunization shots he needs for school and a variety of other medical screenings.

"I'm waiting for the lead testing," she said as she waited in line on the bottom floor of Tropicana Field along with hundreds of other parents. "Then, I'll go for the physical. I can't afford to go get (these). It's hard with medical stuff."

An estimated 3,000 children were seen by about 30 doctors who volunteered their time Saturday as part of Care Fair, hosted for the first time at Tropicana. The Fair opened at 8 a.m., and the first person in line arrived before 6 a.m., said Murray Beairsto, president of the St. Petersburg Junior League that stages the event.

"This morning the line was wrapped around through the parking lot," she said.

The Care Fair is a $100,000 event made possible with the help of about 500 volunteers and donations from numerous businesses. The event grows every year, Beairsto said. The first year, 400 children attended and the second year, about 1,200. This year, the Junior League worked with social service organizations to ensure parents in underprivileged neighborhoods knew about the fair, but it was open to anyone in the county.

"We have targeted it to the whole community, not just underprivileged," she said. "Maybe they just moved to town and haven't established themselves with a pediatrician."

The Junior League gave away 3,000 new backpacks filled with school supplies, and children were treated to free coloring books and ice cream. Bayfront-St. Anthony's Health Care and the Pinellas County Health Department provided the medical services.

Dr. Michael Brown of St. Petersburg, who coordinated the medical services, said doctors were seeing many children whose parents have no insurance. Those parents, he said, were provided with a list of doctors who accept Medicaid, patients with no insurance or payments on a sliding scale.

In addition to pediatricians and family doctors, a number of specialists were on hand, including a cardiologist and a neurologist, Brown said.

"They're all just doing this to help the kids," Brown said. "It's great. The kids need it."

Tayna Burgess attended the fair this year for the second time with her grandsons, whom she is raising. The two boys got complete physicals, and 12-year-old Jamil Rowles went home with a new backpack.

Burgess said she was impressed by how much the fair has grown since last year.

"They're really doing it up this year," she said. "I'm so glad so many people donated so many things. It really helps in the community. I'm glad they're giving back to the community. If it wasn't for this, I don't know what some of these folks would do."