MONROE, CT — Monroe Congregational Church’s annual Strawberry Festival is coming back this summer, along with its fresh baked strawberry pies, biscuits and shortcakes, and jars of sweet homemade jam.
On June 19 and 20, over 60 vendors will sell unique crafts from booths on the church green and bands will play live music for gatherings of families and friends as the town continues to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, which canceled the festivities last year.
“We want people to feel comfortable walking around, shopping from our vendors and enjoying a beautiful New England fair,” said The Rev. Jennifer Gingras, pastor of MCC. “We’re one of the first in our area to reopen, so we’ve been very careful about planning, with health and safety in mind.”
On Saturday, June 19, the festival will go on from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, June 20, it will run from noon to 5 p.m. A church service will be scheduled that Sunday, from 10 to 11 a.m. Monroe Congregational Church is located at 34 Church St.
Proceeds from the Strawberry Festival pays for many of MCC’s outreach/mission related projects, benefiting charities such as The Bridgeport Rescue Mission, Project Warmth, the Monroe Food Pantry and The Center for Family Justice.
It also raises money for Senior Pilgrim Fellowship Mission trips. “This year, we are taking our high school students to Hancock, Maine, in July to work on various community service projects,” Gingras said.
Health and safety
Co-chairs of the festival, Clark Gingras, Frank Wittenauer and John Maiolo started planning for this year’s Strawberry Festival in February, so they dealt with a lot of uncertainty.
Gingras has worked closely with the Monroe Health Department, while also following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and state regulations to ensure all public safety measures are followed. Volunteers will wear masks and gloves, the church scaled back the usual 100-plus vendors for social distancing and will hold the entire festival outdoors.
“By moving it outdoors we feel it’s a safer alternative for people to sit at a table, take their masks off and enjoy their lunch,” Gingras said.
She said her church is strongly suggesting festival goers wear masks, because they will be among a crowd with a mix of ages, including children who were not vaccinated.
“We’re trying to serve people as safely as possible,” Gingras said. “We are fortunate to be in a town where the numbers are in our favor, but we also want to keep each other safe.”
Food and entertainment
Gingras said the lineup of vendors will include favorites, like Guardian Farm, which will bring its goats that children love to pet.
All baking will be done on the premises this year.
“We will have a streamlined order form, with none of our individually homemade baked goods people make at their houses,” Gingras said, “so we’ll have pies, shortcakes, dipped berries and biscuits. We will sell our biscuits by the half dozen.”
Hot food will be provided by the SWAT (Southern Wings and Things) truck, which will have chicken wings, hot dogs, clam strips, veggie and beef burgers, chicken patty sandwiches and fries.
All of the ordering will be done under tents in the church parking lot this year.
“We’ll have runners collect the orders and find people in the hospitality tent, set up in the main parking lot, so we have safe, well ventilated outdoor seating for folks,” Gingras said.
Among this year’s changes, MCC will accept credit cards as well as cash, making it more convenient for guests and a safer financial practice for the church.
The Strawberry Festival will feature a lineup of entertainers, including bluegrass and country bands with Gunsmoke on Saturday and Gold Rush on Sunday. There will also Also be a special performance by the MCC Senior Pilgrim Fellowship Youth Band.
Parking will be available at Fireman’s Field, at the corner of routes 110 and 111, where a firefighter will help drivers find spots on the grass. Town police officers will direct traffic at the crossing area on both days of the festival.
Valid handicapped parking for MCC volunteers and customers will be in the church’s back parking lot, behind the Mustard Seed Shop.
A year from the big 5-0
If not for the pandemic, this year would have been the Strawberry Festival’s 50th anniversary, so that celebration will have to wait until next year.
“It will be a big celebration,” Gingras said. “We’re just grateful to be able to reopen this year. It’s really exciting to have the can do spirit of the church behind this event. It is something the congregation has done faithfully for 49 years. Last year was a heartbreaker that we couldn’t have it, but this year we’ll be back and ready to safely welcome guests to our church campus on Fathers’ Day weekend.”
Upwards of 300 volunteers will make the festival happen, preparing the food, cleaning off tables, walking the green and helping crafters among their many contributions.
Gingras said the Strawberry Festival is the “perfect outdoor family friendly event.” John Maiolo, a co-chair of the festival, agrees.
“There’s a moment during every festival where it’s buzzing with friends and families enjoying a strawberry shortcake and listening to music,” he said. “We may have missed it last year, but I’m very excited that we can get back to our regular Father’s Day weekend tradition this year.”