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Annual Harney Point Kiwanis event attracts large, grateful crowd

By Staff | Oct 28, 2014

Wee witches, tiny black cats and super heroes and Disney characters by the score crowded the riverfront at Jaycee Park Saturday as the 17th annual Kiwanis KidsFest again offered a wealth of activities and entertainment.

The gamut ran from horse and pony rides to a bounces house and rock-climbing wall to dancers and gymnasts on the main stage, all free and all courtesy of the Harney Point Kiwanis of Cape Coral which partners with other organizations, businesses and public safety entities to put on what has become one of the city’s most popular family-oriented festivals.

“We just moved here and everyone told us it was the thing to do,” said Shannon Kolakowski, whose daughter Kaithlyn Elizabeth, 2, ran about in a pink tutu while carrying a balloon sword. “It’s perfect for our first weekend here.”

That view was shared by other parents ladened with free backpacks, free books courtesy of the Kiwanis, handfuls of $1 hotdogs for kids willing to sit down long enough to grab a bite, and, of course, enough candy to make Halloween night pale in comparison.

“It’s awesome,” said Jessica Humphreys, a coach for the Pelican jump rope team, whose son Jacoby was trying one of the slides. “There’s a lot more people than I expected, lots of booths and families.”

For many, it’s an annual event.

“Oh, we come every year,” said Melissa Castillo as her daughter Alissa Velez, 2, chose from among a wealth of lolly pops at one of the many booths handing out treats.

Mom Kayla Metcalf took a similar view.

“It’s great; we’ve come for the past two years and she’s always had fun,” Metcalf said as her daughter, Alexa Laurenti, 2, played on the playground.

Family fun was a common theme among attendees.

“We just wanted to get the boys out of the house and let them have a good time,” said Mairee Elliot, who was there with her three sons.

“They are having a good time,” she added as Alex, 5, took another ride down the slide at one of the playground areas at the park. “A great time. This is wonderful.”

Games, rides and craft booths, including one where children got the choice of hammering together a small wooden tool box or heart basket, were among the numerous “to do” options.

“We just wanted to see the ponies, try the games, see the animals,” said Sarah Guerrier as her son, Blake, 1 1/2, held a small fishing pole over a tiny “pond” of plastic fish in hope of winning a prize.

Judging by the length of the lines and the number of costumed kids and patient parents queued up with goodie bags in hand, the horse and pony rides were among the most popular attractions.

“Even the baby loved the horse,” said Tara Metcalf, whose daughter Ella, 5, had just had her turn on a horse fetchingly bedecked in a straw hat.

Others were first-time visitors who either heard about, or drove by, the festivities that filled the park.

“To see what it was; it looked like a lot of fun,” said Katie Lee as her two little ones, Addison, 2 1/2 and Grayson, 6 months, shared a swing octopus style.

Parents Samantha Sullivan and Sabera Boyle stopped for by much the same reason.

“We drove past it, it looked fun,” said Sullivan as their smiling daughter, Alice Sullivan, 2, dismounted a pony.

Organizers said the event drew record attendance.

“We do believe it was the largest crowd ever,” said Eric Feichthaler, who co-ordinates the festival for the Kiwanis. “Based on the number of vehicles we parked and the number of people walking around, it definitely was the biggest ever.”

He said he was pleased.

“Exceptionally so,” Feichthaler said.

“I had great feedback this time,” he added. “It was great. And this year we raised more money than ever, too.”

Wonderful weather, participation by 100-plus businesses and organizations, and the fact that they were able to hand out 500 free backpacks courtesy of the primary sponsors, the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation and the Culliton Family, all contributed to the good turnout.

All the money raised goes to the Kiwanis scholarship program and other projects including sponsorship of nine in-school service clubs and this year, a free atlas distribution program.

The Kiwanis club was hoping to raise enough money to distribute the hard-covered atlases to fourth-graders in two schools but actually should be able to do better than that.

“With the money raised we might be able to do every school in Cape Coral, every fourth-grader,” Feichthaler said.