HILMAR — A popular Central Valley health and safety fair is bringing in big names and hopes of even bigger crowds.
GDI Insurance Agency's third annual Community Safety Saturday on May 18 will feature "Glee" star and anti-bullying advocate Dot Marie Jones and nationally recognized victims advocate Marc Klaas. The free event brings together dozens of area public health and safety organizations to offer information, services, food and prizes to the community without charge.
For the past two years, the fair has been in the Turlock-based insurance company's parking lot. But this year, because of demand, it has moved to the larger space outside the Hilmar Cheese Co. plant. Some 3,000 people attended in 2012; some 5,000 to 7,000 are expected this year.
The family event began as a public service, said GDI Insurance President Grant Davis. This year, there will be triple the number of booths than last year, and everything from child safety seat checks to life jackets and fingerprint ID kits will be offered.
"We do a lot of work in keeping our people and their children safe," Davis said. "We started looking into child safety events and didn't see adequate education in the area. We thought this is something not being done and something we can do and make a difference. No one sells anything and we don't sell any insurance, either. Everyone is there for the same reason, safety."
The 22 groups in attendance this year will range from the California Highway Patrol to Cal Fire, the Merced County Sheriff's Department, the American Red Cross and the California Department of Boating and Waterways.
Davis estimates his company and its sponsor, Capital Insurance Group, will spend some $70,000 on the event. None of the organizations are charged to have booths, and there is no admission fee.
Returning for his third consecutive year will be Klaas, who became a children's safety advocate after his daughter Polly Klaas was kidnapped from her Petaluma home and murdered in 1993. Through his Klaas Foundation, he will offer free fingerprinting, photographing and DNA for take-home ID kits for parents. He also will promote his new free privacy Internet browser, Cocoon, and missing-child smart phone app Polly's Guardian Angel.
Klaas said he has been happy to see the GDI event grow each year. "It's amazing, and they get a terrific turnout," he said. "It's extraordinary and I hope as many people as can show up and take advantage of the free opportunities presented to them."
One of the event's biggest draws should be Jones. The Hilmar native will return home to promote the anti-bullying book "Just Like You." Copies of the children's book, by Robert Kroupa, will be handed out, and Jones will be there to sign them and give autographs.
The two-time Emmy nominee was a star athlete at Hilmar High and Modesto Junior College. She shot to fame in 2010 when she joined the hit Fox show "Glee" in the recurring role of football coach Shannon Beiste.
Jones' off-screen advocacy includes speaking out about bullying. She supports the nonprofit Just Like You Foundation, which promotes Kroupa's book and its message of universal acceptance.
"She actually has been bullied as a child and is very passionate about anti-bullying," Davis said. "For us, it's a wonderful fit. Where else do you go to learn about this? So Dot coming to talk about bullying here is a big deal."
Community Safety Saturday will be from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 18 at the Hilmar Cheese Co. Visitor Center Park, 9001 Lander Ave. Go to www.cigsafetysaturday-hilmar.com.
Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter, @TurlockNow.