Maria Gonzalez handed out fliers enthusiastically while flashing a big smile to everyone who approached her table. Maria Gonzalez, the vice president of HACE, the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises, sat behind a table in Fairhill Square Park on a warm, sunny Saturday to sign up residents for HACE’s various services.
But the multicolored balloons and fiery beats of drums made it clear that Gonzalez wasn’t at any dull housing fair. On Oct. 1, Gonzalez and a variety of other services hosted the Fifth Annual Fiesta Caribena, a festival with a dual purpose: to celebrate Puerto Rico’s Caribbean culture while providing the festival’s attendees access to necessary services.
The festival included traditional Puerto Rican food, face painting, children’s games and a stage for salsa dancing and live Puerto Rican music. But the underlying purpose for the fair was to bring programs and services to the Fairhill’s predominantly low-income residents. Gonzalez was out promoting HACE, which builds houses and provides housing services for needy residents. “We’re trying to bring housing related services to the community at large and give other organizations the opportunity to have face-to-face contact with people that need the services,” Gonzalez said.
Some other organizations at the festival were Espanoza College, Wells Fargo, PNC Bank, Providence Center, the Energy Coordinating Agency, Congreso and more. Congreso caseworkers Elizabeth Crespo and Nancy Castro also donned large smiles while speaking rapidly in Spanish to groups of people constantly approaching their table.
“We help people fill out applications, make phone calls, help with crisis intervention, help people with bills…we also go to schools and hold conservation workshops,” Crespo said. “Our main focus is to help clients become self sufficient, which are mostly low-income households with women and children.” Congreso’s reach also extends beyond Fairhill. “We have services everywhere,” Casto said. “We help people from Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. We try to give them as much information as possible so they know what to expect once they get here [U.S.].”
Medical services were also offered, including free health screenings provided by TLC Medical Response, which entailed checking the pulse, blood sugar, blood pressure and oxygen levels. After people received their screening results, TLC gave people tips on staying healthy and lowering blood sugar levels.
In addition to the services provided, the day’s upbeat live music and flamboyant salsa dancing showcased significant aspects of Caribbean entertainment. “The fair is also to celebrate Caribbean culture,” Gonzalez said. “And it’s for everybody to see the talent we have in our community as well.”