Every 4th of July weekend nearly half a million people flock to Knoch Park for music, rides, and ribs. In 1987 a group of volunteers started Naperville’s Ribfest and the rest is history.
25 years ago a small group of residents formed the Exchange Club of Naperville, a branch of the national organization that raises money to prevent child abuse and domestic violence. They created a fundraiser and Ribfest was born.
“I went to a meeting and found myself involved in the organizing, planning and implementation of the very first Ribfest,” said Ray Kinney, Ribfest Charter Member. “It was held Father’s Day weekend on Rotary Hill. We had no idea what we were getting into, we were a very small club, and we pulled it off.”
The next year, Ribfest moved to Knoch Park. Over the years the festival has evolved, growing to an event with 15 rib vendors, carnival rides, and world-class musical acts.
“We continue to try and enhance the event every year, by changing up vendors by changing up musical acts, those type of things,” said Kinney.
While Ribfest is a good way to celebrate the 4th of July, it’s about coming together as a community and helping those who need it. The Exchange Club has raised more than $12 million and given it to more than 50 local organizations that all have the same mission: to help kids.
“It really helps us in all those programs where we are working with young folks early on so they are learning good healthy patterns and good child rearing patterns,” said Ron Hume, Executive Director, 360 Youth Services. “Because of Ribfest and the Exchange Club we don’t have to turn anyone away from our services of helping to preserve families and protect kids from abuse.”
“A lot of people miss the reason of Ribfest, ‘Oh it’s just a big party,’” said Kinney. “No, it’s a party with cause, a party with a purpose. At the end of the day we’re trying to help that single mother that’s struggling a bit, we can give her a hand up not a hand out.”
Putting together a festival that attracts more than 60,000 people a day takes help. Ribfest is staffed completely by volunteers, more than 4,000 of them. Many are from the organizations that receive the money.
“360 Youth Services, Little Friends, all these different organizations that receive money for us will be here on site,” said Kinney. “DuPage PADS, Loaves & Fishes, Hesed House, they’ll all be supplying us with manpower and volunteers. They’re paying it forward. We’re paying it back. It’s really a great cooperation.”
The five day festival may be tiring for volunteers, but it’s the end result that keeps them coming back year after year.
“At the end of the day when we’re all tired and sore and we look back and we feel good about what we’ve done and that for me personally is a big goal,” said Kinney.
Last year, the Exchange Club raised more than half a million dollars, which they split between 54 organizations.
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