By Judy Wakefield
---- — It’s one of the abiding scenes of spring in Andover when Clown Town takes over The Park in mid-May, turning it into a magical world of rides, candy and the painted faces of smiling clowns.
But behind the scenes, not everyone is smiling, as membership in the once-popular Andona Society, which puts on Clown Town, has dwindled to an all-time low.
Some are now saying that as the organization shrinks, its ability to put on fundraisers like Clown Town, which benefits a variety of youth programs around Andover, could disappear all together.
The Andona Society has sponsored Clown Town every year since 1952, when five Andover housewives formed “Andona,: which they named by blending Andover with the Latin verb “to give.”
Back then, most women stayed at home and the organization allowed them a chance to socialize with other women.
In 2014, it’s a whole different scene for the young mothers of Andover, where high housing prices and the skyrocketing cost of living has forced many women to work outside the home, leaving them no time to join the group.
Currently, Andona has only 30 active members, about half of what the group had a decade ago, said Megan Fairfield, an Andona member who is leading Clown Town this year.
“Of great concern to our members is the small number of women who are joining Andona to take on key roles,” she said. “If Andona cannot increase our active membership numbers ... Clown Town will shrink to a carnival only and potentially not exist.”
As it is, Andona has cut back on its fundraising activities and now only hosts two benefit events per year. Clown Town raises about $50,000 a year to support programs in the schools and all trough town. The proceeds also pay for camperships and scholarships.
“This, at a time when we are receiving more requests for funding of anti-bullying and mentoring programs in the middle and high schools, and larger fund requests from music and enrichment programs, like the high school marching band and the vocal music groups,” Fairfield said in an email.
Clown Town has already been forced to cut back due to Andona’s shrinking membership numbers.
“We are unable to provide all of the experiences at Clown Town that people have come to love, including the dunk tank, balloons and photos,” she said. “We attempt to offset these losses by inviting businesses to sponsor the event and promote their services. Additionally, we hosted a Spring Fling for middle school students, which we no longer have enough members to do.”
IF YOU GO
What: Clown Town
When: Friday, May 16, 6 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, May 17, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the rides extending to 8 p.m. (Heavy rain postponement date Sunday, May 18, noon to 5 p.m.)
Where: The Park, Chestnut and Bartlet streets
More information: www.andona.org
Andona by the numbers
Recent Andona contributions include:
$7,500 to elementary schools
$2,800 to cultural programs
$4,500 to middle schools
$1,500 to Andover High School Senior Safari
$5,500 to Andover High School scholarships