38th annual Sioux Lookout Blueberry Festival taking place, but will look different this year
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
The Sioux Lookout Blueberry Festival Committee confirmed this year’s festival will take place while complying with government issued mandates such as social distancing and restrictions surrounding gathering sizes.
This year’s festival is scheduled to run from July 31 to August 9. Committee members said this year’s festival will be scaled down compared to previous years.
“The festival will run, but it will be in a different form. Obviously we’re going to follow the government’s mandates with social distancing, group sizes, and things like that. We are looking at doing virtual events, which is fantastic… We did send out an email to the event organizers to ask them how they felt about participating in the Blueberry Festival this year and we had a wonderful, positive response from a lot of the event organizers, so that was very nice. They’re willing to change things up so that we can move forward. It may not be as busy as what it’s been in the past, and we understand that. We’re working hard to make something happen,” said Dori Hopko, Blueberry Festival Committee President.
“We’ve hired Jessica Darling. She’s our coordinator, and she’s doing a wonderful job of helping us think outside the box to help the event organizers create an event keeping in mind the governments rules, regulations, and social distancing,”
“We feel as a committee that we don’t want to let it go. We’d like to give the community something to look forward to because everybody has been down in the dumps since this (COVID-19) happened, and we’re lucky with where we live because we have the expanse and wide open spaces. The Blueberry Festival can take advantage of that, and Jessica (Darling) has been working really hard. We’ve gone through the booklet, we’ve looked at each event, and we’ve asked how can we make that event safe or can that event happen and how can we change it up to make it happen,” said Christine Hoey, Blueberry Festival Committee Treasurer and Past President.
“We just really feel the festival is really important to the community, and we think that it’s doable. It’s going to be watered down. Maybe there will be two or three events a day, but it’ll be something,” she said.
Hoey said a modified and smaller festival this year makes it harder to fundraise, as they normally would, for future festivals. She said t-shirt sales this year will be crucial in supporting the future of the festival, ensuring the 2021 festival can expand back to its normal size and capacity.
“What’s going to happen this year, without us being able to have the festival as normal, is it’s a huge fundraising loss, just like any event that’s been cancelled throughout COVID-19. What we want to focus on this year, the festival committee itself, is to ask the public to support the Blueberry Festival by buying a t-shirt. We’re going to print the t-shirts as normal. We usually print 1000 or maybe a little bit more depending on the year… Normally, a lot of the businesses or organizations support us and the t-shirt sales are our biggest fundraiser, which allows us to continue as a festival… The hope is to have them for sale two to three weeks before the festival itself, during the festival, and then after the festival,” said Hoey.
“Our big push will be to sell the 1000 t-shirts to be able to be sustainable for next year because if we don’t have some kind of fundraiser in 2020 we will not probably see a festival, or to the extent it usually is, in 2021,” she said.
Festival Coordinator Jessica Darling said she’s confident this year’s festival will provide creative events for families to enjoy. She said the committee has plenty of ideas when it comes to carrying out old events in a safe manner while introducing new events that can be enjoyed both virtually and in-person.
“I’m optimistic about what the festival is going to look like… We’re just trying to be creative and figure out how normal events can be modified to be online or socially distance. It’s been fun so far… Even now we’ve been trying to think of new events rather than continuing old ones if we can’t. We’re thinking about a geocaching event, bringing back the great blueberry bake off, and online gameshows. We have a ton of ideas, so now we’re just hoping to make it happen,” said Darling.
“I definitely see, on this side of things now, how important the festival is for our community. Growing up here, it’s always something everybody looks forward to, so I feel a little bit of a responsibility to make it as good as it can be,” she added.
“There are so many things that can be done. Our focus now will be discussing how events can happen safely,” said Hoey.
“We’re a dedicated group of volunteers who have been with the committee for a long time, and it’s part of us. We’re passionate about what we do, and it’s a way of giving back to the community in a positive sense. The more we can do to keep it creative and fun the better it’s going to be for the community,” said Hopko.
The Festival Committee said they’ll be releasing the festival program in July. Organizers are still able to book an event by contacting [email protected] or 737-3227.
To stay up to date on this year’s festival, such as t-shirt availability and event announcements, check out their Facebook page @BlueberryBert or visit www.blueberrybert.com.