Pungo Strawberry Festival is canceled, but could a smaller community event be held?

Sandy Dawson, the honorary Witch of Pungo, greets the crowd during the parade on Saturday, May 26, 2018. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Pungo Strawberry Festival is among the major community events canceled due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, which can cause the disease Covid-19.

“After careful consideration, the board members of the Pungo Strawberry Festival regret to announce that the 2020 Pungo Strawberry Festival will be canceled,” said festival chairperson Todd Jones in a statement released on Wednesday, April 1.

“This decision did not come lightly,” Jones said in the statement. “We have been in regular contact with Virginia Beach city leaders in the hopes of keeping the festival a real possibility. However, the Governor’s executive order is clear. In order to protect the safety and wellbeing of all concerned, we cannot risk bringing large crowds together during these challenging times.”

For 36 years, the Memorial Day weekend festival has shined a light on the city’s rural communities and the agriculture industry, in recent years bringing more than 100,000 people to the village that is the gateway to southern Virginia Beach.

The festival, too, has celebrated ties to the U.S. armed forces and military service in this Navy town.

The festival is an all-volunteer organization, and it is a source of funding for a wide range of community organizations, charities and scholarships, delivering more than $1.3 million to worthy causes over the years.

Todd Jones. [File/The Princess Anne Independent News]
For example, the festival donated nearly $67,000 to local causes and organizations last year, according to the nonprofit’s federal filings. The event generated more than a quarter million dollars in revenue, not including its economic impact in the wider community, such as local strawberry growers, and monies raised by vendors.

Participating groups include local charities such as the Creeds Ruritan Club, which sells burgers and other concessions, and houses of faith  such as Charity United Methodist Church, known for the strawberry taco confection that funds its youth ministry.

Jones said the board waited to make this call, but, with the announced cancellation of gatherings in Virginia through Wednesday, June 10, it needed to be made to ensure public safety and also in fairness to landowners. “A lot of the land we use is actually farmland,” Jones said. “Hopefully they can salvage the spring planting season.”

Jones said the board is considering what options it has to try to generate some of the revenue it uses to help the community.

“The real heartbreaker is there’s going to be dozens of local charities that we always were able to give money to that we won’t be able to this year,” he said.

The group will look at how to fund scholarships – it gives out between eight to 12 per year to local students – and support some charitable organizations. Jones said they might discuss holding some kind of event later in the year, though not on the scale scale of the normal festival. 

“Is there some other fundraising event we can do?” Jones said. “I’ve been with the festival 16 years, and we’ve never had a complete washout.”

The Pungo Strawberry Festival is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, and it is able to accept donations. Learn more about the festival at its website, pungostrawberryfestival.info.

© 2020 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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