For the second year in a row, the Lebanon Strawberry Festival is being curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The regular festival will be postponed to 2022. It’s too unstable with the government right now, “ said Cindy Kerby, board chairperson of the Strawberry Festival Association. “Not knowing what’s going to change and how the governor’s going to change things, it’s hard to work around that.”
Volunteers had put in hundreds of hours preparing for this year’s event and a 65-page COVID-19 protection plan had been created. The entertainment and vendors had been booked and in mid-April the plan was to go ahead with the festival.
But climbing COVID-19 rates and Gov. Kate Brown’s decision to put Linn County back in the extreme risk category made it impossible to move forward with certainty, Kerby said.
“There’s a lot that went into having a festival. We had planned on having a festival. It’s really tough, the entire board is struggling with it,” Kerby said.
The final straw came when the board was unable to obtain insurance for the event.
“We had several insurance companies that would not insure an event in June at this time given the current COVID circumstances. They just would not insure an event of our size at this time,” Kerby said.
Jill Ingalls of Ingalls & Associates, an event production company, said that while some smaller events have been held in Oregon, nothing on the scale of the Lebanon Strawberry Festival has taken place in the state since the social distancing restrictions went into effect.
“The Strawberry Festival is probably one of the earlier ones that decided to make a try,” Ingalls said.
Ingalls & Associates is currently in the decision-making stage on whether to move forward with an event it is planning in early July. Ingalls said she understands first-hand how challenging this process can be.
As an example, she said that both of the janitorial firms which ordinarily staff that event have declined offers to service this year’s festival. Vendors are becoming harder to find, Ingalls said, because some have gone out of business and others have gone out of state in order to secure contracts in places which have opened up earlier.
“Normally, events are planning 12 months out. We’re all faced with the COVID restrictions are going to change in two weeks. How can I possibly plan sufficiently?” Ingalls said.
Kerby said that In addition to the lack of insurance, Strawberry Festival organizers were also concerned about potential financial losses for its partners, especially the food vendors. They faced the possibility of ordering thousands of dollars worth of inventory and then having no customers.
“The financial ramifications of putting all that money out and then having to cancel at the last minute because something changed with the state. We can’t justify that,” Kerby said. “You can’t do that to them.”
As they did last year, organizers plan to serve strawberry shortcake to the public at Cheadle Lake Park. That will take place on Saturday, June 5, but no time has yet been announced.
Kerby said the festival will also move forward with the scholarships for the five princesses on the Strawberry Festival Court.
While there will not be a full Strawberry Festival, the association is moving forward with its plan to celebrate Independence Day with a fireworks show.
“We’re looking forward to the Fourth of July event and at least we can celebrate the Fourth of July,” Kerby said.