Culture Fest Will Show Diversity in Portage County
Andy Hesse
ahess342@uwsp.edu
Games, music and food from the cultures in Portage County come to life on Saturday, May 12, at Stevens Point Area Senior High. The festival, with over 100 different activities spread out through the high school, is designed for all ages and is completely free.
 
The festival costs roughly $40,000 to run each year and is made possible by in-kind donations, financial donations and volunteers. There are currently 160 volunteers helping out, but it takes about 350 to make it work well. Volunteer Coordinator Carol Okray says she hopes the other 190 volunteers will sign up/show up to help this week.
 
"We have a few big groups that come and help out with setup and breakdown which is always nice," Okray said. "It’s nice working with them. We are still looking for more people for taking down."
 
The kids craft area has about 30 different stations where kids can do hands-on activities led by teachers. The children’s area itself requires about 100 volunteers because it is that well-attended, according to Okray.
 
"The kids can go around with a passport where they can get them stamped by different vendors," Okray said. "They can learn how to say hello in a different language. It is big at the schools and a lot of teachers have them fill out passports and ask them where they went over the weekend."
 
There are foods that people can try made by professional chefs and cooks who just go around to festivals. Anyone who is cooking for the festival has to go through a rigorous test to ensure the food is delivered in a safe manner.
 
"Egg rolls are real popular at the Asian tables," Okray said. "People always have a smile on their face and it is just really pleasant. I know the African booth always has really hot sauces; the Indonesian has a mango spice."
 
Portagecountyculturefest.org lists three reasons for the Culture Fest: First, it brings together the people of the Portage County area to celebrate the richness of its many cultures. Second, it provides excellent opportunities for children and adults of central Wisconsin to learn about other cultures and hopefully learn some new things about their own. Finally, it is fun and educational for everyone involved.
 
This year’s Culture Fest will be the 20th anniversary of the event. Okray touched on the history as well, talking about how it started as tents down by the river with Hmong, USA and Germany booths. Since then it has expanded to SPASH which initially took up a couple rooms; now it takes up the entire school as well as tents set up outside.
 
Information for visiting the Portage County Culture Fest can be found at www.portagecountyculturefest.org. Volunteers looking to help support the festival can sign up by contacting Carol Okray at crwokray@charter.net or visiting www.volunteersrock.org.