SECOND HELP: Current Strawberry Festival organizers are back to build on last year – The Daily Reporter

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Sunny skies greeted patrons of the 2021 Strawberry Festival. Organizers have planned a larger tent this year to allow for more seating in the shade.

Tom Russo | Daily journalist

GREENFIELD — With a bigger tent reserved, more ingredients for the purchased shortcake, and a date chosen to coincide with other local events, Strawberry Festival organizers are hoping to build on last year’s event when the 38th festival will open on Friday 10 June.

The Bradley United Methodist Church will serve strawberries, shortcakes, ice cream and entertainment from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday in the lot on the southwest corner of Main and Pennsylvania streets. The lot is south and across US 40 from the church; the church’s address is 210 W. Main St.

Organizers say they baked around 1,300 shortbread for the 2021 festival, which drew well even amid temperatures in the upper 80s – so well that organizers closed the walk-in service for around an hour to ensure that they would be able to serve some 700 tickets to advance buyers during their visit. This year, festival organizers are working to increase capacity by preparing to serve 1,500.

Still, “We really recommend that people buy their tickets in advance, and then they won’t have to worry,” said longtime church member Kathy Locke. “We will continue to try to serve throughout.”

Locke is part of a committee of about 30 Bradley members who, working in small teams, cover various aspects of the festivities, from promotion and cooking to organizing entertainment and cleanup. A group of walkers from the church carried flyers for the festival and toured downtown shops.

Last year was Bradley’s first year to feature the downtown tradition. Men of First Presbyterian Church, which met nearby at 116 South St., started the festival in 1984. Over the years it became an enterprise of the whole church, and in its final years presenting the festival, First Presbyterian sought out community partners such as local sorority Tri Kappa.

The first Presbyterian handed over the Strawberry Festival baton to Bradley in early 2020, but that year’s festival was canceled amid COVID. The first Presbyterian closed in July of the same year.

Still, the folder full of notes that early Presbyterians passed on to Bradley, along with their years of accumulated knowledge of how to run the event, has benefited current festival organizers in Bradley, said another organizer, Julie Rogers.

“We just tweaked things,” Rogers said. “They kept good grades.”

Subtle changes have included making individual biscuit-style shortbread cookies, in the hopes that they will stay fresh longer than sheets of shortbread cut into rectangles, and fitting out a larger tent this year to allow for more seats in the shade.

“Every year that we do it…we’ll try to tweak things to make it better,” Rogers said.

Locke said this year’s Strawberry Festival will coincide with other events in the area, such as downtown businesses opening later for Second Fridays and Two Jasons performing at Lizabuth Ann’s Kitchen behind the house and the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Museum.

“We would like everyone to come out if they can,” Locke said. “There will be things to do where they could make a night out of it.”

The festival itself features on-site entertainment, including traditional favorite Larry Von Essen with his accordion.

In addition to shortcake and accordion music by Von Essen, another festival tradition remains: Proceeds go to local community organizations. Last year, six non-profit organizations received $1,300 each. This year eight were chosen to benefit from it. Organizations know in advance and are able to help drive traffic to the festival by urging their supporters to attend the festival.

Locke said festival leaders did not stipulate to organizations what to use the profits for and imagined the money could increase operating expenses after COVID. Debra Weber, executive director of Love INC of Greater Hancock County, said the money Love INC receives will indeed be used for general operating expenses. “Bradley UMC is a wonderful supporter of local ministries, and Love INC is fortunate to be one of the recipients!” she says.

Jill Ebbert, executive director of Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen, said that since the pandemic began, Bradley has actively helped support the purchase of takeout containers for customers’ meals.

“The Strawberry Festival is yet another way they continue to support our operating budget,” Ebbert said. “Proceeds from the event will be used to purchase these needed items.”

Andrea Mallory, executive director of Hope House, said the homeless shelter is grateful to local churches like Bradley and that money from the festival will help as Hope House seeks to “increase our programming to increase our help”, said she declared.

“Thank you to such a wonderful community, and we sure need everyone’s help to change lives one day at a time.”

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