REENFIELD — Thirty-two years offers plenty of time to refine a routine.
Wash and slice pound after pound of strawberries Wednesday. Bake 1,500 pieces of shortcake in the church kitchen Thursday. Serve them both with ice cream Friday. Gather up the money from the ticket sales.
Then give it all away.
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That’s what First Presbyterian Church, 116 W. South St., has been doing since 1984. The church’s Strawberry Festival tradition will continue June 3, when church members serve bowls of strawberries, shortcake and ice cream to advance ticket-buyers and walk-ins 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the city parking lot south of the church.
Members of the church sign up for two-hour shifts to work the scoops and ladles to get everyone through the line. More volunteers are recruited for high-peak times, such as lunch and the afternoon arrival of children from Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department’s summer program.
The last hour of the festival also can be a high-traffic time, said Tom Bloodgood, chairman of this year’s festival. That’s when concert-goers headed to Greenfield Banking Co.’s Entertainment on the Plaza series pick up a snack on their walk to the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza.
The volunteering begins well before festival day, though. There are posters to put up and tickets to sell. A group gathers at the church two days before to prepare strawberries. The next day, it’s time to pull out the shortcake recipe.
“It’s a well-worn-looking recipe in the drawer at the church,” said Tom Bloodgood’s wife, Carole Bloodgood, one of five or six shortcake makers.
They combine baking mix, milk, butter and sugar in more than 30 batches. Each batch makes 40 to 48 festival-size pieces of shortcake, she said — enough to fill two cookie sheets.
Festival day also requires some prep: setting up tables, chairs and a tent in the parking lot at the southeast corner of South and Pennsylvania streets.
That’s been the site of the festival for about half of its history. The first festival in 1984 took place in the church parking lot. Church member Dennis Whitson recalls that the lot had just been black-topped, and some of the tables and chairs just slowly sank in.
The next year, Whitson said, then-Mayor Keith McClarnon suggested the church set up on the Hancock County Courthouse Plaza. The church did so for several years until the city parking lot south of the church became an option and not crossing State Street with supplies became desirable.
Whitson said the festival started when some men of the church went to a strawberry festival in Indianapolis and thought it was a good event. The men’s group at First Presbyterian decided to try putting on its own.
From the beginning, Whitson said, the decision was made to give away whatever money the church made from the festival. And yet, Whitson believes as the event was formed, making the contributions was secondary.
“Just to have a local community event was the primary reason,” he said.
Still, during the years since 1984, that “secondary” purpose has grown to the tune of $50,000 to $75,000 church members estimate has been contributed to community organizations. Whitson said the church gives away $2,000 to $3,000 in festival proceeds each year.
Last year, some of those funds went to Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center. Chris Kelly, interim executive director of the therapeutic riding center at 531 W. County Road 100S, said the center helped about 50 families last year.
In addition to the many volunteers who groom horses, mow pastures and work with riders, contributions like those from First Presbyterian’s Strawberry Festival help the not-for-profit organization continue its work.
“Any contribution from any group goes to fund our programs and services for people with special needs,” she said. “We really appreciate everything that they do.”
Everything they do is a task shared among fewer workers, with early festival leaders gone, Whitson said. Roby Hott has moved away. Ellsworth “Mac” McCleerey, Keith Miller and Ralph Scroggins have passed away.
What started as a men’s group project has become a whole-church effort. Covering the jobs gets a little more challenging each year, but “we’re still managing,” Whitson said.
Tom Bloodgood also admits the challenge is there but said church members want to see the downtown tradition continue.
“I think there’s a feeling that because of the history of it … we make every effort to continue it.”
When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. June 3
Where: First Presbyterian Church, 116 W. South St., Greenfield
Tickets: $3 in advance and $4 the day of the festival. Advance tickets are available at McCleerey’s Sporting Goods, 22 S. State St., and Ye Olde Head Shoppe, 949 N. State St.
Featuring: Strawberries, shortcake, ice cream and live entertainment. Accordion player Larry VonEssen has been a perennial favorite as one of the festival acts through the years.
Proceeds: Will benefit local organizations; recipients remain largely the same from year to year. Organizations receiving festival funds in 2015 were Mental Health Partners of Hancock County, the Boys and Girls Club of Hancock County, Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy, Meals on Wheels of Hancock County, and funds through Hancock County Community Foundation for Hancock County Food Pantry, FUSE (Families United for Support and Encouragement), Love INC and Hancock County Senior Services.