Apple fritters are a multi-sensory experience — from the hot cinnamon and sugar scent of the fried balls of dough to the initial bite into their crispy outer crusts. Such an experience cannot be replicated virtually.
Nor can the overall atmosphere of walking among crowds of all ages at a festival filled with booths and other attractions during a pleasantly cool fall evening.
Jim Champagne, a former coordinator of Southington’s long-running Apple Harvest Festival, summed up the disappointment spurred by its cancellation due to COVID-19 public health concerns.
“For everyone involved, many of the people who participate this is their major event of the year,” Champagne said.
“It was a tough decision we had to make this year,” said David Lapreay, Southington’s director of parks and recreation and the current coordinator of the festival. “With the crowds we get — impossible to run correctly.”
Over the course of the festival’s six day duration as many as 100,000 people attend.
So last June, the Town Council voted to cancel the event.
“It’s bittersweet,” Lapreay said.
Organizations that rely on such festivals to fundraise have had to come up with other virtual events.
For example, Southington UNICO didn’t hold its annual Italian Festival either, explained Dawn Miceli, a member of that group. That meant she and other volunteers did not hand off grinders stuffed with sausage and peppers to fellow community members.
But groups like Southington Community Cultural Arts, the board of which Miceli chairs, are eyeing new ways to bring the community together, while also heeding public health precautions.
Miceli said the spirit of volunteerism that pervades Southington “is remarkable.” Businesses always give back, she said.
“We’re able to come together and partner, come up with interesting ideas,” she said. “Now what I’m seeing is a partnership of the two, of the non-profit agency, along with the commercial entity. That’s what needs to happen in a global pandemic, when normalcy has been stunted.”
The lack of public events has made volunteerism more difficult.
“That’s the whole reason why you get involved with these service clubs. When you are in a booth, experiencing the festive atmosphere, it’s all part of the goodwill, camaraderie,” Miceli said.
In Cheshire, another large fundraiser, the Fall Festival was called off. Meanwhile, town officials still held a fireworks display.
Other events are in the works for the coming months. None of them will have a fair-type atmosphere, explained Yetta Auger, president of the Cheshire Chamber of Commerce.
“We have to social distance,” Auger said. However, she added, that doesn’t mean local groups haven’t concocted fun outdoor activities.
For example, the chamber has collaborated with Artspace, the town’s Parks and Recreation Department and the library to launch a new scarecrow contest in town. Drive past various residences and businesses in town, and you will encounter scarecrows made of straw, some with carved pumpkin heads with hats, dressed up in different garments, including suits and dresses.
Some non-profit groups, like Ball & Socket Arts, have crafted unique events, despite the challenges posed by social distancing, Auger noted.
“I have to say the business and organizations really took this challenge on…. They’re doing things safely. And they’ve turned things around,” Auger said.
Auger said she is working with the town’s Economic Development Commission to bring more events to promote local businesses in the coming months, including what she called a “light up Cheshire” event.
Cheshire Lights of Hope will host its 16th annual town-wide luminary event next month, on Nov. 14. The organization has taken a different approach to recruiting participants this year, explained founder Don Walsh.
“Obviously because of COVID we have to really change how we do things,” Walsh said. So the organization is selling its luminaries online, as opposed to door-to-door solicitation. When the luminaries are delivered, street captains will leave them in bags on their neighbors’ front porches.
The funds Lights of Hope raises have gone to local non-profits, including the Cheshire Food Pantry and Cheshire Human Services, and to fund scholarships for local students. The group has raised $985,000 over its first 15 years and is looking to break the $1 million mark this year.
Walsh, while confident that Cheshire Lights of Hope will be able to continue to fundraise in a safe and social distanced manner,is also concerned about the well-being of residents and local businesses that have sponsored the group in the past.
“We might be one of the few organizations who can pull off an event, because it’s a non-contact type of event,” Walsh said. “This is a tough year for everybody. We’re all doing the best we can. For us, how it’s affected our charity, we won’t know for another month.”
The need is clearly out there.
“If you are able to help out in any way, this is the time to do it,” Walsh said.