The sun is high over Tiger Town by 9 a.m. Rows upon rows on parked cars fill the parking lots, including the overflow lot. Masses move simultaneously towards the same direction – an area of larger-than-life blow-up bounce houses, tents and rock climbing walls.
A mother walks hand in hand with her redheaded, curly-topped little girl, her white dress sporting a freshly-spilt apple juice stain down the front.
A father pushes a stroller not far behind with a baby boy cooing at the sights and sounds. A man in a cutoff t-shirt slinks by with greased back hair. A young man with a ball cap and cargo shorts briskly walks along with the crowd.
As everyone makes their way closer, the smell of maple syrup fills the air. The annual Pancake Festival has begun.
The 55th Pancake Festival is hosted by the Kiwanis Clubs of Lakeland. Each year more than 600 volunteers serve approximately 7,000 people.
Through this event, the Clubs raise money for events they plan to put on throughout the year.
The event is sponsored by the Kiwanis Clubs of Lakeland. Each year our more than 600 volunteers serve approximately 7,000 people.
The three Lakeland Clubs have decided to expand their event and partner with the community.
As the crowd nears the grounds, individuals spatter off to different locations. Young boys run toward the police tent for a do-it-yourself tour through an on-location police office.
Little girls skip to pet the puppies at the rescue tent. Mothers walk towards the fresh flowers booth to see the potted plants they can add to the front of their lake front porches, and fathers walk with their sons on their shoulders to the play area.
There is enough to keep everyone entertained. By now, the line for the pancakes has reached outside of the building and through the vendor area.
Everyone is ready for their pancake breakfast, including Rosa Burks, who finds her place in line.
Rosa is 42 years old. She’s a regular at the Festival.
“Haven’t missed it since I was a child,” she sways back and laughs heartily.
A voluptuous woman, she stands no more than five feet tall. Her dark skin is the color of chocolate, smooth and beautiful.
Her long hair dangles in small braids down her back. They swish back and forth as she animatedly talks to those around her.
“The food’s my favorite part,” Rosa exclaims. “Who wouldn’t want all the pancakes you can eat for five bucks?”
Rosa does not know any strangers in line. Her family quickly becomes those around her, each anxiously waiting for their fluffy, delicious pancakes.
Already 20 minutes in line, Rosa has moved, perhaps, a few feet. While those around her become agitated, Rosa remains upbeat.
“It’s all worth the wait, baby,” she says as she sways back and forth, “all worth the wait.”
By the time Rosa reaches the doors inside the building for the cakes, it is 11 a.m. Some have left the line, falling out from hunger and exhaustion. But Rosa remains.
“One year,” she recounts, “I waited for five hours!”
She laughs, slapping her side at her own humor.
“Of course it wasn’t that long, but it sure felt like it! My belly was a’talking up a storm.”
Upon entering the hanger, the smell of fresh batter and maple syrup is overwhelming. Families park their strollers next to tables and sit with their plates.
Little children run around with sticky hands and messy faces, playing a game of tag with one another.
Rosa grabs hers to go in a Styrofoam box. She’s had enough crowds for one day.
Rosa wobbles out of the hanger and back through the crowds. By now, the line has reached clear around the parking lot.
“The things people will endure for free pancakes!” she laughs and praises the Lord for her fortune.
After she passes the fun zone and the vendors, she makes her way back to her car, pancakes in hand.
“I’ll see you here next year, ya hear?” She waves a gentle goodbye, and strolls home to enjoy her well-deserved pancakes.