For more than three decades the annual Strawberry Fest in downtown Terre Haute has operated like a well-oiled machine.
Volunteers prep the tasty treats. Then, customers dig in to a mountain of strawberries, ice cream, biscuits and whipped cream.
Thursday’s return of the much-anticipated annual event after a 2020 absence due to COVID-19 required numerous changes as the event evolved into this year’s grab-and-go format in the parking lots outside First Congregational Church on Ohio Street.
“This was a whole new concept,” festival committee member Gwen Hicks said. “We had a lot of different ideas and lots of suggestions. We worked through a lot of things. We talked about a drive-through and a lot of different options.”
It was the walk-up and pre-ordered pickup options that worked Thursday.
On Wednesday evening, volunteers assembled about 3,000 pre-made containers known as “The Works” to sell for $5 each. Those containers were stored in a freezer truck overnight to await transfer to coolers in tents set up in the First Financial Bank parking lot outside the church.
Thursday morning, volunteers worked at three tables inside the church basement to fill a few thousand more containers.
Hicks estimated sales of about 6,000 to 7,000 containers, based on previous years and this year’s format change.
In the past, customers could choose their ingredients and price. This year, The Works was the only option at a dollar discount from previous years.
“There are a lot of new moving parts this year,” Hicks said. “We did an estimate of what we did in 2019, so we ordered about 85 percent what we did in 2019. We didn’t want to order six tons of strawberries and then get canceled.”
Usually the parking lot is full of tables and chairs where customers can gather and socialize as they eat. This year, only a couple of tents were set up to accommodate groups from the Boys & Girls Club so they could stay and eat as a group.
Hicks said the success of this year’s experience could lead to a hybrid grab-and-go area next year as well as the traditional festival that includes music and tents for sit-down eating.
In the production area, multiple four-person teams from Terre Haute Savings Bank were among the volunteers assembling the containers of strawberry creations.
“This is something we do every year as part of helping the community,” volunteer Tuyet Goins said as she added scoops of whipped cream.
Being able to meet the members of the community has been a pleasure for the THSB team, Goins said, and volunteering at the festival is something her co-workers enjoy. In the first hour of their shift, the THSB team had filled a couple hundred of containers.
Outside, Tina Wenzel and her daughter Emilie ordered six to-go containers. It was their first time coming to the downtown festival, mostly due to dropping off Logan Wenzel to work with his Terre Haute North Vigo football teammates on the production line.
“I got some to take to may parents at home,” Tina said of her order.
Nicole Wilson was a repeat customer who made a quick stop at lunch time to pick up containers for herself and her daughter.
“This is the best thing I’ve ever done,” Wilson said. “I thought it was drive-through but the line is better, the set-up is better. This is great.”
Hicks said the fundraiser benefits many organizations in the community.
Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.