COSTA MESA — The Orange County Fair Board has approved a special free night at the fair for foster children, their families and volunteers.
On July 14, more than 8,200 kids and adults laughed, played and ate their way through the Orange County Fair for free at "A Fair to Remember: A Celebration of Our Children." The inaugural event offered a sneak preview of what was in store for fairgoers.
Moved not only by community support for the event — more than $70,000 was donated to the effort — but also by the stories from kids and parents afterward, the board voted unanimously Aug. 25 to make the event a regular part of the fair's offering.
"It was a tranquil bliss for the kids and parents," Kinship Adoption Agency board member Jim Bieber wrote in an email. "For four-plus hours, neither the parents nor the kids had a care in the world; they were beaming with smiles, taking a complete break in what was/is a long process of shaking off abuse and making new bonds with their foster families."
For more than five hours, the group had free access to the rides, games and food. The game vendor and caterers covered a combined $30,000 in costs, said Fair Board Chairman David Ellis.
At the Fair Board meeting, one teenager told the audience how he recognized a younger boy from a foster home years ago, when the kid was in a "bad place."
That night was one of the only times he'd seen the boy smile, the teenager said.
One foster parent recalled how they witnessed two siblings reunite after six years apart.
"Many had never been to the fair and many haven't gone because they can't afford it," Ellis said. "If I were to leave the Fair Board tomorrow, my proudest moment would be the creation of this permanent event for the foster kids of Orange County."
The size of the event was unlike anything the county has seen, wrote Stephen Livingston, chairman of the Juvenile Justice Commission, which is part of the Orange County Superior Court system.
In a letter thanking the Fair Board a week after the event, Livingston said the largest annual gathering before "A Fair to Remember" was an annual picnic that draws a few hundred guests.
Though board members approved the new event in perpetuity, details of when they'll open the fair for the kids and the expected annual costs will be hashed out closer to the date, they said.