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Strawberry fest: Fundraiser hits the sweet spot again

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GREENFIELD — Life was berry good in downtown Greenfield Friday, as hundreds ventured out to enjoy the 31st annual Strawberry Festival at Greenfield First Presbyterian Church.

Wearing his “I’m a big brother!” tank top, David Stoeppelwerth took his job seriously as he shoveled bites of shortcake into his baby sister’s mouth. Ten-month-old Alison seemed to appreciate the sweet treat.

“This is our first strawberry festival. The shortcake is very good,” said the kids’ grandmother, Debbie Lawler of Greenfield.

Families with strollers and streams of workers from the courthouse and local businesses trekked over to enjoy the annual treat, as did a group of kids from the parks department day camp. The sunny blue skies provided a perfect backdrop for the blue and white tents set up outside the church at 116 W. South St.

It was another successful year for the church, whose men’s group started the event as a way to raise funds for local charities. About $2,000 is raised each year, going to causes such as Hancock Hope House and the Julian Center.

“On a really, really good year, we can raise $4,000,” said festival volunteer Katherine Harper.

She and fellow church member Ralph Scroggins have been dutifully baking shortcakes and slicing strawberries for decades. On Thursday, they took a break from baking to reflect on their church’s storied strawberry tradition.

“The first year it was out in the church parking lot, and it was so hot our metal chairs were sinking into the new blacktop,” recalled Scroggins with a laugh. The hot weather does have a happy side effect, however. It prompts even more people to crave a bowl of fresh berries and ice cream.

The church typically sells 700 to 1,200 bowls of shortcake a year, but has sold as much as 1,600 bowls in years past.

“We only got rained out once in 31 years, and that was at 4 in the afternoon,” Scroggins said. “We finished the day serving in the church basement.”

For years the festival took place on the courthouse plaza, but it now takes place in the public parking lot just south of the church.

“Years ago that lot was home to The Ranch market, and we’d store our berries in their coolers and buy all our ice cream from them,” Scroggins said. “When we were over by the courthouse, we’d use their grocery carts to take our stuff over there.”

In years past, volunteers would also hand-pick all the strawberries. Now, anywhere from 600 to 800 pounds of berries are purchased and diced by hand each year. Leftovers generally go to the local soup kitchen.

At $4 a bowl – or $3 with advance ticket purchase – the fresh summer treat is still a deal. “We haven’t really kept up with inflation,” joked Harper.

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