Community United Methodist Church’s annual strawberry festival – set this year from 11:00am to 3:00pm on June 1 – is more than a fun neighborhood celebration. The event is a century old and is considered a sweet homecoming for many.
Current and past church members and much of the Riviera Beach community anticipates the festival, which features strawberry treats, games, prizes, food and entertainment. Organizers have revamped the event for 2019 with crafters, vendors, emergency vehicle displays and a dessert bar.
Strawberries are, of course, always the highlight.
“This year, we’re going back to fresh strawberries from local farms,” said Patricia Pearson, a festival committee member in charge of advertising. Pearson said for years strawberries came fresh from local farms, but getting them became more difficult over the years.
“We’re going to have homemade candies too,” she said. In addition, folks will enjoy strawberry preserves, and a new offering, strawberry “pops.”
“They’re really good! I tried them,” Pearson said with a laugh. “They’re big strawberries with a glaze on a stick!”
The classic dessert bar will give strawberry lovers the choice of their berries over cake, on top of ice cream, or topped with chocolate or whipped cream.
In addition to the berries, folks can enjoy pit beef, turkey and ham provided by the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company as well as hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and salads.
Longtime church member Edith Ramsey is 103 years old and remembers the festival of the 1920s. That’s when CUMC was known as the “pink church,” and members met in what is now the Patapsco River Power Squadron building in Riviera Beach.
“It was a huge event for the community to gather and [for] fellowship,” she said. “It focused on the children and youth in the community. Back then, it was hosted by the Women's Society (now the United Methodist Women or UMW).”
Ramsey said her favorite memory was how so many people made home-baked goods, and also getting together for the “capping” of the strawberries.
Nonagenarian and longtime church member Jean Clark remembers the live entertainment, including Northeast High School’s marching band. “The best part was that you got to see old friends and talk to people that you would not have known otherwise,” Jean Clark said. “It kept the members of the church in touch with each other.”
Shirley Clark, who grew up attending services at the church, remembers pony rides and games for the children. “The big hit was the homemade candy and fudge as well as lots of good food that brought both adults and children,” said Shirley Clark, who particularly remembers funnel cakes and the lemons on peppermint sticks.
Eventually, the UMW passed festival planning duties to parishioners and church member Lynn Stenner oversaw the festivities.
Pearson worked with Stenner for years. She treasures the fellowship and comradery of preparing for the festival, meeting new people and seeing people she hasn’t seen for years. She’s also excited about the goodies. “I always look forward to getting one of the homemade cakes,” she said.
This is Judy Long’s first year as chairman and Long said she wants to bring back old traditions and add some new ones too, bringing the community together and making new memories.
Long said, “Our efforts are to promote our missions of love and peace, which is so needed now in these times.”
The church is located at 8680 Fort Smallwood Road. The festival will go on, rain or shine.