GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - The St. James Fall Festival has been around for 43 years. The school, the church and the parish depend on it. For the volunteers, parents and students, it’s become more than just a fundraising event.
The festival has a lot to offer, and it’s a good bet that everyone who enters the school grounds will find something to enjoy.
“My favorite part of the festival is probably the food because that’s super good,” said sixth-grade student Lillieann Bentz. “And also I like helping my mom with the booth. And this year, I get to be in the dunking booth, so I really like that.”
Lillieann has spent a lot of time at this festival.
“It’s my favorite fall weekend because all my friends come together,” she said. “It’s like a really fun weekend.”
The two-day festival is the largest of the school’s fundraising events that usually brings in about $100,000.
However, it takes a lot of planning.
“As soon as this festival is over and we pack everything up and we clean the grounds, we’re going to get started right back on 2020’s festival,” said festival chairman Justin Skinner. “So, it’s a long process in the works.”
It takes a lot of volunteer help from the school, church and community.
“It’s something that not only we depend on but all of our families look forward to it each year,” said Kelley Ladner, a parent and volunteer. “It’s a tradition, and we enjoy it.”
That’s something to sing about.
“We joined the family five years ago,” Ladner said. “And I call it family because that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s more than just a school to us.”
While the festival has changed after more than four decades, the end result never does.
“My feet hurt at the end of every day. My calf muscles are sore. I lose my voice by the end of the first day every single year,” Skinner said. “But that, wholeheartedly, is why I do what I do. The smiles that we put on all these children’s faces. The smiles that bring into the parish family and the school family as far as the money we’re able to raise. The fun and excitement that is going on every year. That’s why we do it.”
The festival continues Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.