Thursday, April 17, 2014 2:45 AM
Published on: Thursday, September 12, 2013
By Tauren Dyson
Step right up, Prince George’s!
Tens of thousands of people shuttled through the gates of Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro between last Thursday and Sunday for the Prince George’s County Fair — the oldest fair in Maryland.
While many fair attendees scampered down the midway, munching on funnel cake and hot dogs, looking for games and rides, many organizations on hand, as a part of a massive outreach to the public, saw the event as a prime opportunity to provide information about health and social services offered throughout the county.
“Because we’re finishing the time of year, which is the summer, where we do see a general trend of increase in food borne illness … the importance of the food safety messages are just a little more relevant,” said Luis Delgadillo, USDA food safety public affairs specialist.
Delgadillo parked his USDA food safety truck, which featured interactive games and a 20-minute safety message to food handlers, right along the midway as a steady flow of fairgoers climbed inside.
Parked nearby was the Lions Club’s mobile health unit. In the fair’s four-day span, the volunteers gave free tests to more than 100 people for glaucoma and hearing problems. Lions Club officials thought the fair would be a great place to provide this service to the public.
Glaucoma and hearing problems are most prevalent in the senior population, so it’s no coincidence that most people receiving tests were in that age group.
“We get recognition to the public because they get a free examination,” said Jim Cocchiaro, Lions Club president of community outreach. “Any organization that provides public services, to me, should be trying to get to events like this.”
Many county organizations concurred with that idea. Various Prince George’s County social services set up vendors’ tables inside the equestrian center.
County residents smiled as representatives from county agencies talked to them about how to ease their financial burdens. The Department of Family Services was on hand to help senior citizens find affordable housing.
“Unfortunately, a lot of seniors in this county do no know that we exist,” said Shirley Whitley, Prince George’s Department of Family Services referral specialist. “Some are being evicted, some are homeless, and some are living with their families and being asked to leave.”
Because of tough economic times in Prince George’s County, many families couldn’t incur the added cost of taking care of aging family members, Whitley said. She and her associates can make referrals for low-cost senior living facilities, help seniors apply for tax credits or connect seniors looking for help paying rent or mortgages with roommates.
Prince George’s County also has been hit by foreclosures.
“If they come to us and tell us they’re in foreclosure, we tell them to seek a housing counselor in Prince George’s,” said Nicole Garrett, of the housing authority. “If someone comes to us and says hey we want to purchase a home, we give them all the information we have, for example the ‘Buy Suitland’ program.”
The “Buy Suitland” program provides incentives designed to pull homeowners back into the community. The housing authority buys homes in the distressed community and gives down payment assistance to new homebuyers to move them into those foreclosed properties.
“As you know, Suitland is a hot spot for foreclosures,” Garrett said. “They’re really trying to turn that around and get some homeowners in there.”
A household of one, earning $37,000 to $90, 000, could qualify for up to $40,000 in down payment assistance through the program.