Just Cares Celebrates 9th Annual Fall Festival In Downtown Lakeland
by James Coulter
Downtown Lakeland hosted a real monster mash that proved to be a graveyard smash on Halloween Night. Not even the real fright of COVID-19 could prevent costumed locals from reveling in some much-needed Halloween fun.
Countless children and their families dressed in their Halloween best to visit Downtown Lakeland for games, music, and free candy during the 9th Annual Fall Festival, hosted by local non-profit organization Just Cares.
All along Kentucky Avenue, guests could play games, receive free candy and goodies from booths, eat tasty treats served by food vendors, and dance along to music performed by a live DJ.
Of course, during these uncertain times, pre-cautions were taken to ensure that everyone enjoyed safe Halloween fun. Signs encouraged people to wear their masks and social distance from others, and hand sanitizer was provided at most booths and vendors.
“The biggest thing is to get people to realize that they can still have their lives back but also feel safe at the same time,” Kevin Rios, President of Just Cares. “So it is trying to re-educate everyone that events can come back. We can be beneficial to the community who have been experiencing utter sadness in the past couple months.”
This year’s fall festival was the ninth annual event hosted in Lakeland and the eighth annual event hosted by Just Cares, Inc., a local non-profit organization that helps provide local events and programs to the Lakeland community. Since 2012, they have hosted 9 to 14 annual events in the city.
“Just Cares Inc. was born from a desire to provide educational, fine arts and cultural programs to our community,” their website states. “Our vision is to bridge the gap between the cultural arts and our community by providing programs individually designed to enhance the experiences of all involved.”
Just Cares will be hosting another event on Nov. 2 for Day of the Dead, a traditional Hispanic holiday. The free event in Munn Park will feature a screening of the Disney/Pixar movie Coco at 5 p.m. Another free movie night will be hosted on Dec. 12 with screenings of the Grinch animated movie.
Local events such as this could not be hosted without the support of the local community, especially local businesses that donate their time and money to sponsor these events.
“I always believed that if business owners gather together to help the community, the community will help us,” said Rios, who said how much he loves “seeing the smiles on people’s faces…[and] knowing that an event like this can change someone’s life, and lift their spirits, even if it’s just for a brief period of time.”
Helping to sponsor and co-host this event were Lakeland Moonwalk and Wing Chun Kung Fu. Coach Tim Kittelstad and his volunteers met with children and their parents from their booth, where they discussed their martial art program and offered curious participants the opportunity to test their luck and break a board.
Other organizations and businesses hosting booth at the event included the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and Wings of Teal, Ovarian Cancer Support of Polk County. The latter offered information about their support group and the aid they provide local women who are either going through or who have survived the cancer.
They appreciated being able to educate the public about their cause, as well as meet young children having fun at the event.
“We love the costumes and kids and music,” said Carol Vonesh. “People are out and about and having fun, so we are absolutley having a blast.”