HAMLET — Kids sprinted through sprinklers, somersaulted in a bounce house and spun hula hoops to celebrate the grand finale of the Hamlet Public Library’s summer reading program on Friday.
Popcorn, cotton candy and snow cones kept the little ones energized under overcast skies as temperatures slowly began to climb.
Belinda Clark, library assistant to children, said this year’s turnout was unprecedented in the event’s history as far as she is aware.
“This is my third year doing this,” Clark said. “It was going on long before I got here, but in the three years I’ve been here, I’ve never seen this many. Turnouts have been very, very large. We’ve had over 200 at every show.”
Clark said donations paid for cups and plates and that she couldn’t have hosted the event without sponsors’ help.
“Backyard Bouncy Brothers donated the bounce house,” Clark said. “And the museum sent the face painters. Hwy 55 is serving burgers and hot dogs and GameStop is helping them with that. Food Lion donated buns. The city let us use the popcorn machine and Vector Shirts provided the snow cones. There are just so many people to thank for this.”
Only one hour into the activities Clark said she’d already counted 211 kids.
“That doesn’t include the adults who are here, and we’re expecting that more might come,” she said.
Fairview Heights Elementary School let the library use its auditorium when crowds swelled to more than 300 people at one show, when there was not enough room for everyone at the library.
Beth Ritter, a retired music teacher, took plenty of photographs with her digital camera.
“Every year they ask me to take pictures,” Ritter said. “The numbers have been humongous! The library is the heart of everything here in Hamlet. Everything a person needs can be found right here.”
Carmella Johnson, supervisor of the Hamlet library, helped at the cotton candy stand spinning the web-like strands of colored sugar onto cardboard cones.
“The program this year, it was great,” Johnson said. “It exceeded my expectations and I couldn’t ask for more.”
Savannah Osteen came all the way down from Aberdeen’s Texas Roadhouse to wear an armadillo suit and hand coupons to the curious children who approached her.
“My position is to do the marketing and to advertise,” she said. “But I’m here today to show what we can do for the community, for schools and other events. We donate bread and salad for churches. We cater. We donate peanuts, too. Ms. Belinda was the one who contacted me, and here I am.”
Osteen was a hit with the children, a few of whom believed her to be a friendly dinosaur before reading the words “Texas Roadhouse Armadillo” on her costume’s hat.
For those who missed all the fun in Hamlet, Richmond County’s summer reading program begins anew on July 16 at Leath Memorial Library in Rockingham at 10 a.m.
For more information, contact Leath Memorial Library at 910-895-6337.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673.