Voorhees International Day welcomes all walks of life

The staple event highlights the township’s diversity.

Countless corners of the world will convene in Voorhees Township. However, the spectrum of people will not need to venture across the globe.

They reside right here, in South Jersey.

The township’s signature International Day, which was the brainchild of former Camden County clerk and current state Sen. James Beach nearly two decades ago, is set for Saturday, Oct. 7 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Eastern Regional High School, located at 1401 Laurel Oak Road.

“I remember the first year, we had only 20 people,” said Gwen DeVera, chairperson of the 2017 International Day. “But, last year, we had 1,500.”

Today, the event includes more than 70 local vendors and entertainment ensembles, all of which represent regional residents from a scope of backgrounds, ranging from the Pacific Islands to Pakistan.

The global celebration is hosted by the Voorhees Cultural and Diversity Committee, a decade-old coalition of 15 Voorhees residents who represent the township’s various ethnicities.

In 2011, the group raised enough money to build a home for a family displaced by the super typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines. Currently, it’s collaborating with the Red Cross, working to provide relief from the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake that battered Mexico.

But on a regional level, International Day is the committee’s way to offer a cultural connection in its own backyard.

“(At the first International Day), we ultimately found out that we have a lot in common, despite the fact that maybe we worship differently,” said Stephanie Fisher, chairperson of Voorhees Cultural and Diversity Committee. “Our cultures indicated that we did things a little differently, but we had a common goal: a nice house and a good education for our children.”

Originally, the event took place each year St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in Gibbsboro. But, as the number of attendees grew, the fair moved to Eastern Regional High School.

Eastern Regional is a particularly fitting venue, as the school has embraced students from around the world. The main lobby, adorned with dozens of nations’ flags, is a testimony to its diversity.

This year, noteworthy attendees will include Mayor Michael Mignogna and other township committee members. Aside from local police and fire departments, representatives from national organizations such as the NAACP and Knights of Columbus will attend.

For the first time, local Girl Scouts will lead the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem for the annual event.

A cultural parade sparks the event, uniting a multitude of students garbed in their respective native culture’s clothing. Different creeds, colors and ethnicities create a kaleidoscopic landscape.

“We get together to learn to appreciate people who come from different backgrounds than you do,” Fisher said.

The parade gradually gives way to an afternoon of entertainment, featuring music and dance groups from around the area, including Philadelphia. Some ensembles include Filipino musicians, Russian ballroom dancers and a Chinese dance troupe from Cherry Hill.

After the extravaganza, attendees will migrate to the cafeteria, where a buffet of international cuisine awaits. All the food is donated by restaurants from Camden and Burlington counties.

“Our township is quite a melting pot,” Fisher said. “We actually run the gamet. Our people come from all walks of life.”