By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Last year, it was morning thunderstorms that caused a slight drop in attendance for the Unity in the Community Festival at Grace Fellowship Church. This year, it was just the opposite that kept that number from rising.
A few more children and parents than came last year braved a blistering July 28 summer sun, the effects of which were minimized only rarely by passing clouds and brief breezes. But those who attended the free event — which included Christian entertainment, free snacks, carnival rides, games, and more — enjoyed themselves, despite the heat.
And that’s what the event is all about.
“We had nearly a thousand there,” said Ruth Robinson, the event’s primary planner and organizer. “It went really well. People had fun and there were a lot of community resources there so they could learn what Atmore has to offer.”
LaShandra Hartley (aunt and chaperone of Quintin, Shamarie and Shabralei Hands) said she and the youngsters were having fun despite the heat.
“We’re all having a good time,” she said. “We’re enjoying ourselves; I just wish it wasn’t so hot.”
The festival was an inside-outside affair, and there was no charge for any activity, including lunch for the earliest attendees.
Parents or guardians could earn vouchers for free school supplies and/or uniforms by visiting the informational booths, and plenty took advantage of the deal. Attendees who did not need free school supplies and uniforms were issued blue armbands as they entered the church, while those who were interested in the free educational items were issued red armbands.
The two groups took turns viewing the entertainment, provided by Strength Team, inside the church’s air-conditioned sanctuary. The mix of evangelists and former athletes — from the ranks of pro and college football, power lifting, body building and pro wrestling — blended feats of strength, which brought loud and rowdy rounds of cheers and applause, with Christian testimony, which brought humble and polite attentiveness.
“The Strength Team was awesome,” Robinson said. “I think everybody loved them.”
Though the event included numerous secular activities — carnival games, a dunking booth (where one could send Mayor Jim Staff, Tom Tschida and others into the water), pony rides, train rides and more — there were plenty of signs that the festival is rooted in religion. Proof of that resided in the evangelical strongmen who performed indoors, the numerous church-sponsored booths outside and the non-denominational prayer tent that made its festival debut.
A shiny, metallic blue Lifeflight medical evacuation helicopter was a big attraction, while an Atmore Fire Department fire engine and the department’s Smoke House also drew a lot of interest from youngsters.
Robinson said the three Unity in the Community Festival sponsors — working together for the fourth straight year — were glad they could again offer residents the opportunity to get together, at no cost, in a Christian environment before the new school term begins.
“Grace Fellowship, Concerned Citizens of Atmore, and Brewton District Missionary Department are really honored and privileged to be able to provide a completely free family fun day,” she said. “We hope it will be even bigger next year.”
News photos by Don Fletcher