Devonna Patterson insisted that the doe-eyed scarecrow in a pink plaid shirt will be plenty frightening when she and her friends are done with it.
With her index fingers and thumbs, she spread her eyelids wide apart and used her pinkies to stretch her lips away from her teeth so that her gums were bare. With bulging eyes, she stuck her tongue out.
“He’ll look like this!” she shrieked.
But so far, her scarecrow looked kind of friendly. The 6-year-old drew a smiley face on his jeans, as her older sister, Niazjha Bryant, and a volunteer attached a blond, flowing wig made out of wheat straw to his head.
A couple dozen kids filled the Boys & Girls Club gymnasium with echoing shrieks, taunts and laughter Friday afternoon. They toiled away in groups of three and four to make scarecrows that will adorn lampposts on Jay Street for the annual Jay Fest this Saturday.
Festival attendees will vote for their favorite, said organizer Marc Renson.
“We had them make scarecrows three years ago, but it wasn’t a contest back then,” he said. “I used to be a mentor for the Boys & Girls Club, and it’s just a great organization and we want to bring more awareness to it.”
Renson is co-owner of Ambition Coffee & Eatery and sits on the committee that plans Jay Fest each year. From noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, he and other vendors will pass out cards for people to cast their vote for a favorite scarecrow.
Surrounded by orange paper crimps and rolled up newspapers, 11-year-old Maki Sandiago bellowed indecipherable orders to his friends seated nearby. They bounced from one end of the scarecrow to another, inspecting it for what seemed to be flaws that Sandiago wanted fixed.
One tightened the twine holding stuffing in the scarecrow’s jeans, and the other pulled gently on some stray pieces of crimp poking out of a familiar hockey mask.
“His name is J-Man because he’s Jason,” Sandiago said. “You know, Freddy vs. Jason? Halloween? Friday the 13th? Theeee Jason!”
The boys have no doubt. J-Man will win the contest.
And when cars drive by and see J-Man hanging from a lamppost, said Sandiago, “they will be so scared they have to pull over and calm down.”
Renson said later that the scarecrows will actually be on the pedestrian walkway of Jay Street, but it’s possible drivers will see them from there.
Jay Fest will feature a side of crazy with its scary. Vendors will be dressed up as their own whimsical variations on Alice in Wonderland characters for what he describes as a “Mad Hatters” theme.
“I think it’s fun,” said Renson. “Who doesn’t like to be a little crazy now and then? Anybody can show up in a crazy outfit.”
In addition to the costumed fun, Jay Fest will have its usual vendors outside the Jay Street corridor. There will be raffles, silent auctions, giveaways and more.
Renson said attendance is weather-dependent and usually draws hundreds, sometimes more than a thousand people, to the pedestrian mall each fall.
“Mary Poppins is in town now, so it might draw a nice crowd,” he said.
The stakes were high, though, for the children at the Boys & Girls Clubs. Kids sneaked around to spy on what other groups were doing with their scarecrows, and upped the ante accordingly.
One group couldn’t decide whether its scarecrow should look more like an elf or more like a vampire.
Billy Lobo, 11, looked solemn for just a moment before he came to a decision.
“He’ll be doubly scary with elf ears and vampire fangs,” he shrugged.