CRANBURY, NJ – Undeterred by the threat of rain, the township's annual Drug Free Fair offered younger residents glimpses of a bright, addiction-free future Saturday afternoon.

Held in the Cranbury School's gymnasium from 1 to 4 p.m., children were able to bead bracelets, have their faces painted or get temporary henna tattoos, while learning about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse and exploring more productive uses of their time.

Parents chatted among themselves and looked on as kids with energy to burn bounced around in two inflatable play areas and socialized with groups of friends.

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Event organizer and Municipal Alliance Chairman Kevin Lowery said the day was primarily about education and alternatives to substance abuse, with a dash of fun thrown in.

“It's about making healthy choices for your life, so, while the focus is on preventing the abuse of drugs, I try to look at it from a more holistic point of view: If you're living a healthy lifestyle, you're going to make a choice to avoid drugs and alcohol abuse,” he said. “The consistent message of making healthy choices and avoiding drug abuse and alcohol abuse has been a steadfast focus of the event.”

The Helene Cody Foundation, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), Cranbury Historical Society, Princeton Fitness & Wellness Center, Cranbury School PTO, Princeton Healthcare System and Wellspring Center for Prevention were among the organizations featured at the fair, highlighting activities for youth to get involved in and the connection between mental health and substance abuse.

“We try to showcase as many pieces of the puzzle as we can, depending on the participants each year, who's willing and able to come and schedules permitting,” Lowery said.

Appealing perhaps to hungry classmates fresh out of the bouncy house, Kirin Kunukkasseril, 14, and Varun Vaidyanathan, 12, of the Cranbury School Student Council, were on hand selling baked goods to raise money for The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).

When asked why she felt that avoiding drug and alcohol abuse was important, Kirin said that drug use has been on the rise and that it can have a damaging effect on people's lives.

Although she does not know anyone personally whose life was affected by drug use, Kirin said that she knows people who have been touched by someone's addiction.

Varun said that the student council was raising money for CHOP because its patients are the next generation and the Drug Free Fair could positively impact them.       

“I think it's important because people know that drugs are bad but they won't stop and I feel like this can help the future generations be more aware of what's going on and why you shouldn't do drugs and what drugs can do to you,” Varun said.

According to Lowery, this year's event was smaller than in the past, partly due to the overcast weather and partly because of organizational changes.

Usually the fair is held outside, with a variety of food vendors, and an average of 200 to 500 children attend, he said.

Mary Mahoney, 39, said she had three very good reasons for coming out to the fair.

“I have three small boys – second grade, first grade and my youngest will be in kindergarten next year – and we just think it's a great community event,” she said. “We love supporting the school and we think it's really important that we start education awareness early.”

Mahoney also said that the fair was a good way to reinforce the message being delivered at home about the dangers of substance abuse.

“Obviously they are younger, but you can never start too early,” she said. “It's really just figuring out how to subtly and sometimes not subtly educate them about what they need to know.”

Made up of volunteers, the Cranbury Municipal Alliance holds events throughout the year, both in the school and in the community, to bring public awareness to the issues of drug and alcohol addiction, according to Lowery.

“We try to vary what we're doing throughout the year, so this way it's not just one message all the time or one thing all the time because that becomes a static noise in the background,” he said. “So we try to change it up a little bit.”

According to Lowery, the Municipal Alliance helps further the goal of building a healthy community in Cranbury.

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