SANTA MARIA, Calif. -- A big fundraising effort is now underway to help financially support the Santa Maria Fairpark, which has been hit hard this year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"With us not being able to hold events, like our Strawberry Festival, our County Fair, our interim events, any of those kind of things, it put a halt to our income," said Santa Maria Fairpark Foundation President Rebecca Barks.
The loss of the Fairpark's two signature events has cut out about 75% of its annual budget.
It's been a devastating blow that has left the facility fighting for survival.
"Our county fair is the heartbeat of our valley," said Barks. If we lose this fair, we're losing a huge piece of history. If we lose it, unfortunately, it's going to devastate our community in a way that we don't really realize, how much goes on at the fair, and how many events are held here."
To help it through the financial crisis, a community fundraising campaign is set for the next few weeks.
"We're trying to rally our community around our Fairpark to come out and help us with some fundraising, so that we can get that back into the fair and keep these doors open," said Barks.
On Saturday, there will be a "Save the Fairpark Rummage Sale," held at the Fairpark from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
"It will be in the auction barn," said Barks. "There's lots of amazing stuff. It is a yard salers paradise in there. They will have so much fun."
Next weekend, the Fairpark is teaming with Relay for Life for a drive-through benefit BBQ at Cool Hand Luke's in Santa Maria, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
On October 17, a fundraising raffle is set featuring several giveaways.
"We've had some local businesses come in and donate some amazing items," said Barks. "We've got Santa Barbara County pork producers donating a Traeger and pork. We've got Farm Supply and Pacific Beverage donating a Yeti and some alcohol. You can purchase a $10 raffle ticket at any of the events or online."
The Fairpark is hoping to raise enough money to sustain operations through at least January 2021, when management believes state funding, and the health situation, will become clearer.
"The next couple of months, we're really pushing hard to bring together what we can," said Santa Maria Fairpark Interim CEO Autumn Acquistapace. "We're hoping in January some things open up a little bit, and we start to see a light at the end of the tunnel, maybe that vaccine comes out that we need so badly, to reopen completely."
Acquistapace took over Fairpark operations after Richard Persons retired earlier in the summer.
She's been with the facility for more than 10 years and said staff is doing everything it can to remain open.
"Our group is such hard workers," said Acquistapace. "If everybody had a group like this, I think we'd all make it."
The Fairpark typically employees about 30 people on a daily basis during the year, but during a feature event, like the county fair, the facility increases staffing into the hundreds.
Currently, staffing has been reduced to only six employees, and other cost-cutting measures have been taken, including severe reduction in watering and electrical use.
"The state gives us a very small amount towards our entire budget," said Acquistapace. "Whatever we can do to bring that extra money in to the fair right now, just helps us get through that much longer, just that little bit, so every little bit counts."
The Fairpark isn't totally empty and without revenue streams.
It's currently a COVID-19 testing location for Santa Barbara County. A twice-weekly swap meet is also held on its grounds, and it's being used for RV and trailer storage, as well as a camping site.
"It hasn't sustained us, but it has helped make up that negative amount that we need to make it month to month," said Acquistapace.
Both Barks and Acquistapace emphasized the significance the facility has to the community, and how important it is to keep in operating into the future.
"This fair serves not just the Santa Maria community, but the surrounding communities, and that's really big too, because a lot of people come to the fairgrounds for different events, not just the Strawberry Festival or County Fair," said Barks. "
"I feel like we provide such an important element to the community, making it an affordable venue, for people to have their wedding or quinceanera, and the non-profits to be able to make that extra bit of money they need every year," said Acquistapace, who also points out the vital role it plays in local agriculture education. "Without that, the kids in our area would be without somewhere to show their animals and sell their animals. We really want to be here to make sure those kids can do that for many years to come."
Despite the current situation, there is also a sense of confidence the Fairpark will make it through the difficult financial times and will welcome back the community again at some point in the future.
"We're really very optimistic that we're going to get to fair and we're going to see that for the community in one way or another," said Acquistapace. "The community's support right now, knowing that they want us to stay is a huge encouragement to want us to continue to work harder. Knowing that this place is so important to them, like it is to us, is what keeps moving us forward."
For more information visit santamariafairpark.com.