The uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 crisis has devoured hopes for the 40th annual Virginia Cantaloupe Festival, the primary fundraiser for the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber officials announced last week the annual summertime extravaganza that mixes food, music and friends has been canceled after monitoring the constantly changing coronavirus pandemic.
“This was one of the hardest decisions the board has had to make in a very long time,” said Mitzi McCormick, president of the chamber. “Every year, we look forward to seeing our community come together at the festival.”
The high level of uncertainty surrounding the coming months forced the chamber board of directors along with the festival committee members to forgo this year’s event. Currently, social gatherings are limited to 250 people under Virginia’s Phase Three guidelines. Entertainment venues can have up to 1,000 people, however.
While it’s not clear which rule the festival would fall under, it normally draws a crowd of about 1,500 people, McCormick told The Gazette. About 70% of those who attend are local residents.
Originally planned for this coming Friday, organizers said in late May it was being postponed, thinking restrictions may be lifted to allow for it in a few months. However, Gov. Ralph Northam said last week there’s no indication he’ll relax the current guidelines and right now there are no plans for a Phase Four. In fact, as more regions emerge with rising numbers, some earlier restrictions may have to be put back in place.
“Knowing the rich history and tradition behind the festival, I can assure you this decision was not made lightly or without extensive conversation,” McCormick said. “The health and safety of our community is a priority for us.”
Being the primary fundraiser for the chamber, losing the festival will have an impact, however the organization is “fortunate to be financially sound,” McCormick wrote in an email to The Gazette.
While the in-person gathering will not happen, the chamber wants to honor the yearly tradition by offering what it calls Cantaloupe Party Packs for $35.
The packs include a commemorative T-shirt, barbecue food voucher from Spainhour’s, a cantaloupe voucher from Reese Farms sponsored by Halifax County Farm Bureau, a cantaloupe whiskey cocktail voucher and tasting glass from Springfield Distillery, discounts and coupons to local businesses and “sponsor swag.”
The actual value of the items in the party pack is more than $50, according to the chamber.
“We want to still honor the reason why our festival exists,” McCormick said. “While we can’t have our festival as we traditionally would, we can still celebrate our agricultural and business community.”
The chamber is working with Distinct Impressions, Halifax County Farm Bureau, Hellow Yellow, Reese Farms, Spainhour’s, Springfield Distillery and local businesses to provide these party packs.
“Kelly and James Gordon from Springfield Distillery have been amazing partners,” McCormick said. “We’re excited to work with them to introduce a cantaloupe whiskey for our celebration.”
In addition, Christina Knapp of Hellow Yellow is designing the T-shirts with what McCormick said is one of the “best designs” ever.
“I could not be prouder of how our community is coming together to support one another after such a devastating time,” McCormick said.
In addition to party packs, the chamber is hosting “Show us your Celebration” contests in August and September. Drawings will be held for 2021 Virginia Cantaloupe Festival tickets.
“We are working with local businesses to be involved in our celebration,” McCormick explained.
Molasses Grill will serve cantaloupe sorbet Aug. 20-23, and Hunting Creek Vineyards will have cantaloupe sangria on Aug. 22.
Any business that wants to participate in the celebration may contact the chamber.
The party packs and more details are available online at www.valopefest.com.
For more information, contact the Halifax County Chamber of Commerce at 434-572-3085 or email@example.com.