The Carnival Must Go On

When their clubhouse burned to the ground, Lions improvised to keep their yearly fundraiser going

Lions run a carnivalWhen a fire tore through an historic former school building in Dauphin, Pennsylvania, the Middle Paxton Lions Club lost nearly everything it needed to put on their annual fundraiser, a community carnival that they’d hosted for about 60 years.

“All of the items we needed for the carnival were stored there, and that’s also where we met,” says Brian Cuddy, president of the club.

When the October 2021 blaze consumed the two-story brick structure that dated from the 1860s, “the whole town was down there and watched it burn. It was very sad,” he says.

The fire gutted the building that had operated as a school until the 1970s and later housed community organizations, including the Lions club.

No one was injured in the fire, but much of the community’s historic archives, including photographs and other memorabilia burned as did the most of the Lions club’s tarps, tents, stands, games, and a kitchen that it had used to provide food for carnival-goers.

The club took time to grieve the loss.

“For the remainder of 2021 we were unsure what we were going to do,” Cuddy says. “There was an overwhelming sense of sadness in the community.”

Eventually, the Lions decided they didn’t want to disappoint the town of about 1,100 by canceling the carnival, which Cuddy jokes “is the social event of the season.”

The club, which now meets in a church, still had a contract with a company to provide the amusement rides, which was a good starting point.

“We started saying, ‘I think we can do this,’” he says. “It’s not going to be the same. We are going to have to make changes, but we know our community looks forward to it.”

The club was able to pull two burned game wheels from the wreckage, and rehabbed those, but everything else had to be reimagined from scratch.

The Lions rented tents and purchased new tables and chairs. They arranged for food trucks to provide most of the food, asked crafts people to rebuild games and rallied local businesses and other community organizations to help.

The club had to install a telephone pole to provide electricity to the carnival area and ran water from a nearby school.

They went to great lengths to bring back some of the crowd’s favorite games and food.

“One of the things people really liked at our carnival was our pizza,” Cuddy says. “(This year) we made it at a local church and then carted it by golf cart to the carnival.”

He says the club wasn’t sure until the last minute whether it would all work.

“It was very gratifying on the first night to see that it all came together,” he says.

Paula McKee, president of the Dauphin Middle Paxton Home Association, appreciates what Lions do and was glad to pitch in. The association donated US$10,000, which was used to defray the cost of ride tickets. Purchasing a wrist band for rides cost US$20, but was only US$5 for kids 12 and under.

“The Lions do great things for the community,” McKee says. “And it’s a small community so we help each other.”

The event, which usually raises about $15,000, took place in mid-July.

One surprising twist that came from the tragedy was an increase in the club’s membership.  The Middle Paxton Lions added nine new members since the carnival, for a total of 40.

“I think it really put a light on us and what we do that we didn’t have before,” says Cuddy.