Giving back: Airy Castle volunteers host community fair
Signs mandated social distancing; masks were compulsory and while lollygagging was not restricted, there was little milling about as the community of Airy Castle in St Thomas hosted a small community fair last Saturday at the Airy Castle Basic School.
First held in April 2019, the Airy Castle Community Fair is organised by cousins Moneish James-Baronette and Jowaine Graham. It is a way to give back to the community of Airy Castle where the two grew up and spent much of their lives. Members of their family still reside in Airy Castle, including the family matriarch, their grandmother 77-year-old Kalmeta Vickers.
“The idea for the community fair came about from lived experiences growing up in Airy Castle. Once [we] were in a position to give back, then it was a no-brainer,” James-Baronette, who works as an educator in the United States, where she migrated as a teenager, told The Gleaner.
Noting that the community is mostly rural, their initiatives focus on health and education.
The community fair is just the latest effort by the two as, over the years, they have been a consistent source of support to Airy Castle through the creation of a resource centre and the donation of a laptop computer to the basic school, which both Graham and James-Baronette attended.
They also sponsor the yearly Airy Castle Basic School sports day, where a house is named after Graham.
The second staging of the Airy Castle Community Fair was planned for April. But with Jamaica recording its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in March, and resulting restrictions, a postponement and some readjustment were necessary.
The Ministry of Health provided guidance and local police, a permit and assistance resulting in a scaled-down, but still-successful event, staffed by family and community volunteers and funded mostly out of pocket and through fundraisers and contributions from family and friends, including James-Baronette’s father.
“Last year, it was way bigger, and we had way more volunteers, nurses and doctors. We had to cut back and to maintain social distance. We had to cut back the [number] of people we could serve in comparison to last year,” said Graham.
James-Baronette did much of the fundraising and purchasing back home in Connecticut. Fish fries, cookouts and car washes helped to raise additional funds to buy food and medical supplies, including rice, tinned goods, blood pressure machines, reading glasses, gloves and masks, all of which were shipped to the island ahead of the event.
“The only thing we didn’t ship was pots and pans,” joked Graham, an advertising entrepreneur.
Their focus for this year included much more than providing essential health and wellness screening, services and necessities, but also bringing the small community together safely.
Social distancing; sanitisation; temperature checks and personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves and face shields, were vital.
“We had a sanitisation station at the front of the event to wash your hands with soap, or you could get sanitiser sprayed on your hands. You had to wear a mask [and] we also had extra masks [and gloves], in the event that people didn’t have any,” said Graham.
In many ways, giving back to Airy Castle has become much bigger than the two organisers. It has mobilised a community.
“[We] both wanted to inspire a culture of kindness among the residents, and continue to foster togetherness,” said James-Baronette.
Dr Keyla Samada from the Princess Margaret Hospital in St Thomas saw 47 patients, including students who required back-to-school medicals.
Residents also received reading glasses and were able to test their blood pressure and blood sugar levels and learn more about lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and other ailments.
Local barbers and beauticians offered free grooming services. The HEART National Service Training Agency Trust was on hand to provide career workshops. More than 300 parcels of food were distributed.
Member of Parliament for St Thomas Eastern Fenton Ferguson and Councillor Caretaker Dinsdale Smith got the Registrar General’s Department on board to offer birth certificate application and replacement.
While there was considerably less socialising, there was also some fun for the children and adults, many of whom would have been at home or have their movements reduced by COVID-19 curfews and restrictions.
The kiddies’ village featured a brand-new bounce house, purchased for the event and sanitised after each bounce about. Food, raffles and prizes also kept attendees occupied.
As they plan for next year, the hope is to have a much bigger event. Still, organisers are grateful to members of the community for pulling together for the event’s second staging.
“It’s an annual thing. That’s the intent, to have this every year. It was supposed to be in April, but, because of COVID, we had to shift it to August. So next year April again, it should be on. We intend to have it being bigger and better, reaching more people, and hopefully we get some help the [next] time around with the actual sponsors, and we can reach a lot more people,” said James-Baronette.