TOPSFIELD — It’s 10:30-ish Tuesday morning, and Buzzy Cook and Steve Patrie stand behind two metal trays overflowing with hot dogs. Their day is about to get much busier. A group of hyper excited third-graders and their teachers from the Welch School in Peabody are waiting to enter the large white tent on the Topsfield Fair grounds, where Cook and Patrie will serve them lunch.
Before the day is over, the hot dog guys will dish out more than 500 steamed frankfurters in buns. They will repeat this every weekday during the 11 days of the fair, America’s oldest agriculture showcase, which continues through Columbus Day. They and other volunteers arrive about 7:30 each morning, to fill the cardboard lunch boxes and do assorted odd jobs. They don’t get paid, but there’s no place the two Lynn residents would rather be.
Cook, a lifelong Lynner, and Patrie, who married a Lynn girl and moved to the city ages ago, have both volunteered here for the past five years. Both got involved thanks to Tommy Newhall, a Lynn funeral director, who uses vacation time to oversee the fair’s hospitality headquarters.
“I enjoy it,” said Cook, 73. “A lot of these kids, I don’t think, have ever seen a real pig or animals. They come in here and they are so happy. They all show us the ribbons they get during their day at the fair.”
Patrie said seeing the kids’ wide smiles makes the time in the tent speed by. “It doesn’t take a lot of know-how to throw hot dogs in water,” he said, “but this is a really special day for every kid. They get to enjoy a day out of the classroom, and still learn a lot.”
Kelly DeSousa, a teacher at the Welch School, said “This is fantastic. It’s fun. It’s learning what happens on a farm. Our students are really enjoying themselves.”
The students sit at round tables inside the tent, enthusiastically talking about the horses and bunnies and honeybees between bites of lunch.
The hot dogs are donated by Kayem Foods. Dunajski Dairy of Peabody donates the milk — chocolate or regular — and Brooksby Farm donates the fresh apples. The buns, Fritos chips, everything on the lunch menu is donated.
Suzanne Lacombe of the maintenance staff said school groups are treated to an education program organized by Kate O’Brien in the old 4H Building. “The kids learn where their food comes from. They see farm-fresh eggs and hens and chicks. They learn that milk comes from cows and doesn’t magically appear in plastic bottles,” said Lacombe.
Sandy Rubchinuk organizes the daily lunch madness. She arrives about 9:30 a.m., toting that day’s schedule on a clipboard, and informs Cook, Patrie, and other volunteers “We have to add 40 more lunches to the 10:30 group, and our 11:30 group would like their 99 lunches boxed to go.”
The crew scramble to get things ready.
“If it wasn’t for the free lunch, a lot of these kids wouldn’t be able to come to the fair,” said Rubchinuk, who also chairs the Home Canning department. Law requires students get a lunch break each day. Every student receives a free lunch at the fair, not only those who can’t afford to buy it, she said.
“We can feed 100 kids in 10 minutes,” said Rubchinuk, proudly. She was Mrs. Essex County in 1984. “I got to be on ‘Good Morning America’ when they broadcast from the fair. I was on TV with my pig.”
“And look over there,” added Rubchinuk, pointing to a police officer guiding her horse out of a trailer. “A woman State Police officer and her horse … She shows the young girls having lunch here that a woman can be a state trooper AND ride horses.”