There was something for everyone at the first North Bergen Summer Green and Health Fair. Dozens of vendors set up stands providing everything from beauty products to original artwork. Town departments offered health checks and library memberships. Food and refreshments were available while different bands performed onstage throughout the day and kids played in bouncy houses and raced around the field.
Established by the town to bring together in one place many of the features North Bergen offers and to provide residents with a one-stop education in health and the environment, the event took place on a beautiful Saturday, June 21 from noon to 4 p.m. on the 64th Street field.
Geoffrey Santini manned the New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue booth, accompanied by his pit bull, Alibi. With a highly visible wound in his side, Alibi was rescued from a dog-fighting ring in New York.
Santini spent the afternoon handing out information on topics such as safety around strange animals and dog walking tips. He has worked as the animal control officer and animal cruelty investigator for West New York for the past 22 years.
Five years ago he founded New Jersey Animal Control and Rescue.
“It’s a private company that I contract with different towns: North Bergen, Union City, Weehawken, Lodi and Ridgefield,” he explained. “I have guys who do the animal control for the townships--picking up strays, loose domestics, wildlife, injured, hurt, lost dogs or cats.”
Santini has also opened a pet shelter in Lodi. He is a dedicated advocate for animal safety and a significant component of North Bergen’s recently adopted “responsible pet ownership” program.
“I was in the first class of humane law enforcement officers in Bergen County Police Academy in 2011,” he said. “They wanted to professionalize the animal control officers, the animal investigators. I graduated number one in the class. It’s my passion.”
Equally passionate were the kids handing out buttons, pens, and rulers at the D.A.R.E. booth--
Drug Abuse Resistance Education.
“It’s education about drugs,” said seventh grader Samantha Vanegas. “To make sure people don’t do them.”
And how do the buttons help? “If someone sees you walking down the street wearing one of the buttons they will know not to offer you drugs,” explained sixth grader Karen Gomez.
Also speading the D.A.R.E. message that afternoon were sixth grader Roseann Chang and Ashlee Giordano. Altogether 18 student volunteers manned the booth over the course of the day, according to program coordinator Joe Sitty.
Strolling around in the sun carrying trays of cookies were high school seniors Milagros Oviedo and Cristina Mastropasqua.
“We’re selling cookies for FCCLA, the Family Community Career Leaders of America Club,” said Oviedo. “We bake cookies for soldiers.”
The FCCLA meets once a week after school to whip up large batches of cookies that they ship to men and women serving overseas. At the Green and Health Fair they were selling cookies at two for a dollar to raise funds to keep their project going.
Lucero Garcia and Erika Ribero, in grades six and five respectively, are two friends who volunteered to spend the afternoon at booths entertaining young children at the fair.
“We helped with the booths for the little kids who play the spin wheel,” said Ribero. “Now we’re doing face painting. It’s pretty awesome.”
Art and music
Noted North Bergen artist Ray Arcadio set up a booth at the fair to showcase his prints and products, including a unique series of bold, cartoonish figures based on familiar cultural icons.
His was a popular stand, attracting numerous passersby -- and compliments.
Arcadio was in the midst of a busy week, with other shows in Hoboken and upstate New York. Not to mention his day job.
“You gotta stay busy,” said Arcadio, smiling. “Bad thing happen if you fall asleep.”
Among the many bands taking the stage at the fair was Hong Kong Graffiti, a trio from Jersey City that has been playing together for about a year.
“It’s tough getting into the music scene around Jersey City, North Bergen, Hoboken,” said guitarist Riaz Sajan.
“In Jersey City there aren’t very many venues,” agreed bass player Kyosuke Nonoyama, who was pleased with the response from the North Bergen audience. “People liked our new songs. It was kind of an experiment. We tried choosing our most upbeat type songs.”
Nonoyama attends County Prep High School, while Sajan and drummer Aleksander Osenenko attend McNair High School. They were invited to play the fair by their friends, the North Bergen band Fiscal Cliff, who are familiar faces at local benefits and town events.
“We played a lot of shows with them in the past,” said Nonoyama. “We’re very grateful to have them as our friends.”
Among the major sponsors of the event were PSE&G, United Water, and Palisades Hospital. Other vendor participants included the New Jersey Meadowland Commission, Planet Fitness, Habitat for Humanity, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.