Lakefair, the 53-year-old fair that has taken over a good chunk of downtown Olympia this week, is best known for its Saturday parade and its Sunday night fireworks.
But among the event’s most notable attractions is something that’s not quite so loud or so colorful: It’s the food booths, all staffed by nonprofit organizations.
Fairgoers can stuff themselves on burgers, sausages, roast beef sandwiches, ice cream in various guises and that perennial fair favorite, elephant ears.
“We have people who come back year after year and say, ‘I have to have my elephant-ear fix,’ ” said Karen Gerrits, president of Altrusa, which has been selling the confection — fried bread dough topped with cinnamon and sugar — to hungry hordes for 30 years or so. “Sometimes, we’ll see the same people come back two or three times during the same evening, or we’ll see the same people come back night after night after night.”
The elephant ears are the fair’s highest- grossing food item. “They sell more than anybody,” said Jan Meyers, Lakefair’s administrative coordinator.
“We have lines a block long on both sides of the booth on the busy nights,” Gerrits said. The booth grosses about $30,000 a year, she said.
“It’s very labor intensive,” she added. “We have 13 people working in our booth at all times.” Those volunteers are not just Altrusa members, and the club was still looking for more help earlier this week.
Altrusa raises most of its yearly budget at Lakefair, but the elephant ears also are sold at Tumwater’s Fourth of July celebration, Lacey Rotary’s Deschutes Duck Dash and the Oyster Fest in Shelton.
All of the funds the club raises go directly to people in need in the community; projects range from donating to the Thurston County Food Bank and the YWCA Other Bank, to funding scholarships, to giving brightly colored fleece throws to patients in the palliative care unit of Providence St. Peter Hospital.
The longest running food tradition at Lakefair, though, is a savory one: the German sausages sold by the Zonta Club of Olympia.
“We usually make between $4,000 and $5,000 each year that we give back to the community,” said Joyce Gillie, who is the chairwoman of the sausage booth. “Our mission is to help women and children around the world. We give some internationally and we also give locally.”
Besides sausages, the booth is known for its Coca-Cola.
“People look up and down the booths looking for Coke,” Gillie said. “People have really definite tastes.”
The vendors have a unique window on the happenings of the week. Gillie is at the booth full-time aduring the run of the event, in case problems arise — and has been since 1977. “She’s the one who’s been there the longest,” Meyers said.
In the essential ways, Lakefair hasn’t really changed, Gillie said. “From its beginnings right up to now, it’s featured fun and activities for children and grownups. It’s always been in the center of town.”
Some call Gillie “the Lakefair queen,” but she’s at least as well known for her former occupation: She served for 30 years as an elementary-school principal in the Olympia School District, leading Lincoln, Roosevelt, McLane and Garfield.
“That’s where my concept of helping in the community started,” she said. And among the customers buying those sausages are many former students and their parents.
“We have our regular customers, old timers that have been coming for years,” she said.
What: The 53rd annual Capital Lakefair is a traditional celebration filled with music, carnival rides, fireworks, a grand parade and other family activities — plus plenty of food.
When: Noon to 10 p.m. today, noon to 11 p.m. Saturday, and noon to midnight Sunday.
Where: Heritage Park at Capitol Lake in Olympia.
Cost: Admission is free, but take money for rides, games, food and arts and crafts.
More information: 360-943-7344 or www.lakefair.org
10 a.m.-3 p.m. Senior Day entertainment
4:30-9:15 p.m. Car show
8:30-10:30 p.m. Rock City
8 a.m.-noon Kit car races and 3k and 8k runs
9 a.m.-7 p.m. Volleyball tournament at Capitol Campus
Noon-4 p.m. Kids Day at Sylvester Park
5-7 p.m. Parade
9-11 p.m. Freckles Brown
8 a.m.-7 p.m. Volleyball tournament at Capitol Campus
4-6 p.m. Idol on the Lake
8-10 p.m. Billy Farmer and the Diamond Experience
10 p.m. Fireworks