Volunteer drives strawberries to Kokomo last minute to save festival

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KOKOMO, Ind. – Some quick last-minute decisions saved a popular festival. The strawberries for this year’s Strawberry Festival arrived in town on Tuesday, after a man volunteered to drive to pick them up in southern Michigan.

The festival has been going on for roughly 25 years, now grown to an all day event that encompasses the blocks surrounding the courthouse square. It’s part of the Greater Kokomo Downtown Association’s First Friday, which highlights and promotes downtown and local businesses.

The city’s kick-off to summer brings in thousands of guests, with most buying the flagship treat, a strawberry shortcake. Last year, more than 7,000 were made with 4,000 pounds of strawberries.

Gregg Lucas is always responsible for buying the berries. It’s already part of his 9-to-5 job, as he owns Moore’s Pie Shop in town.

“We usually order them in March,” said Lucas.

Several days ago, Lucas called up the California farm to make sure everything was still on track. The news wasn’t what Lucas was expecting.

“He said, we don’t have any and I sort of went into a panic,” said Lucas.

Weather has caused crops out west to not grow as expected, putting the festival in jeopardy.

“Here we are just days from the Strawberry Festival and we have no strawberries,” said Susan Alexander, manager of the Greater Kokomo Downtown Association.  “But, Greg and Moore’s Pies stepped up to save the day and to save the festival.”

Lucas went looking for a new vendor. He first found one in New York, but the berries wouldn’t make it in time. Lucas went to rent a 26-foot trailer to make the trip east.

Then, over the first couple days of this week, Lucas found another vendor that was much closer. On Tuesday, he drove to two separate strawberry vendors near Niles, Mich. to get 4,000 pounds of strawberries. They came back to Kokomo in 33-pound tubs. In total, they had 130 buckets of them.

The berries have been thawing out in time for the festival.

“I probably had eight hours of driving time in there,” Lucas said.

The festival runs until 11 p.m. Friday night, but the buckets typically run dry sometime around 9:00 p.m.

“I’m extremely glad,” said Jasmine Vincent, who bought a strawberry shortcake Friday during lunch. “I would have been extremely disappointed. You can’t just get good strawberry shortcake everywhere.”