BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE
PUNGO — The 2021 Pungo Strawberry Festival is canceled due to concerns about the novel coronavirus pandemic, marking the second straight year without the festival in the gateway to the Virginia Beach’s rural communities.
Since 1984, the festival has been the major event celebrating agriculture and rural life over the Memorial Day weekend in the village. It also honors this Navy town’s strong ties to the U.S. military and our veterans.
The board of the nonprofit that organizes the festival this year could not risk going forward, however, given current restrictions on gatherings and the continued spread of the virus that can cause the disease Covid-19.
“It is challenging enough just to hold board meetings and planning sessions while complying with executive orders,” Todd Jones, president of the festival’s board of directors, said in a statement officially announcing the cancellation. It was released on Tuesday, Jan. 12, though it had been noted earlier at the festival website.
“We cannot confidently proceed with the 2021 festival,” Jones said in the statement. “We do not want to bring large crowds together unless we feel certain it is in a safe and healthy manner, even outdoors. We also cannot incur the huge costs again associated with delivering a three-day festival only to cancel it at the last minute.”
During an interview, Jones said the safety of participants is the priority for a festival that can bring more than 100,000 people to the village over its three days. The decision also was informed by the need to invest in the May festival now amid uncertainty that large-scale events will return by summer.
“It’s a financial decision that we had to make early based on projections, prognosis,” Jones told The Independent News on Monday, Jan. 11. “We can’t keep gambling in January on what’s going to happen in May. Last year, no one saw it coming. This year, we think we’re making an educated decision.”
He added, “The plan is we want to make 2022 a comeback, if you will.”
Jones said the loss of the festival this past year also impacted the organization’s ability to support local charities and award scholarships to area high school students, as it does each year. Proceeds are a source of funding for a wide range of community organizations, charities and scholarships, delivering more than $1.3 million to worthy causes in the community over the years.
“We’re dedicated to making it happen, we’ve just got to get all of the environmental factors lined up so it’s safe to do so,” Jones said, speaking of 2022 plans.
As a volunteer-run 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, the festival can accept donations. More information about the festival – and a statement announcing the cancellation – can be read online via pungostrawberryfestival.info.
In the statement released to the members of the news media on Tuesday, Jan. 12, Jones thanked supporters of the festival – and reiterated that he hopes to see everyone in Pungo next year.
“We appreciate so many of our volunteers, vendors, charitable groups, and patrons who make this festival so successful every year,” he said. “We want to thank the city of Virginia Beach for continuing to support us every year and to the many sponsors who have helped us bring one of the best all-volunteer, family-friendly events to Pungo.”
© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC