Freedom Fest board still deciding whether to hold some or all Fourth of July events

By Marty Cheek

Due to the public health restrictions from the coronavirus pandemic, South Valley nonprofit organizations are forced to cancel spring and summer events, including the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras and the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Other popular social events that will not take place this year include the Backcountry Weekend at Henry W. Coe State Park. The park is still open for hiking and other day-trip recreations, but the Visitors Center is closed and backpacking and camping are not allowed.

The Chamber of Commerce board of directors has not yet made a decision whether or not to postpone or cancel the popular Friday Night Music Series scheduled to begin June 12.

Morgan Hill’s Freedom Fest, scheduled for July 3 and July 4, has not been canceled as of the end of March.

“The nonprofit’s board will make a decision based on the risk the coronavirus might pose to attendees and participants in the parade, Family Music Fest, Patriotic Sing, and other events,” said Freedom Fest Board President Jeff Dixon. “We are in a data-gathering mode right now. The keys for us are public safety and community service. If we can have a safe and healthy Freedom Fest, we want to provide our community that opportunity. We are hoping for the best.”

Many cultural events such as plays and concerts have been postponed due to the coronavirus. The South Valley Symphony’s May 10 concert will occur at a later, yet-to-be-determined date. The South Valley Civic Theatre show “Cabaret” was scheduled to open April 24, with performances until May 15. A message on the webpage from producers said that because of the inability to hold rehearsals, SVCT is uncertain if it will be able to maintain its published performance dates of the musical.

The Morgan Hill branch of the American Association of University Women canceled its March 29 Wildflower Run, a fundraiser for scholarships and programs for young women. It will be held April 19 through April 26 as a virtual run where participants can run or walk from any location they choose such as on the road, on the trail or even on your home treadmill.

“You get to run at your own pace and time yourself,” said Elizabeth Mandel, a member of the AAUW. “And, before your run, your tee-shirt, bib, and other swag will be waiting for you at the designated (drive-through) packet pickup location, or you can request it to be mailed to you. In addition, we are providing all participants the opportunity to enter a drawing for many great prizes.”

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The board of directors of the Morgan Hill Mushroom Mardi Gras had heavy hearts when they decided it was best for public health to cancel the 41st annual festival scheduled for Memorial Weekend, May 23-24. The recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control to cancel or postpone any event or festival within the next eight weeks, as well as the health and safety of the public, were major factors taken into consideration, said Executive Director Sunday Minnich.

Postponing the event until later this year was not a viable option given the factors involved in planning and executing the festival. Site availability was also a major impediment.

To date the festival has awarded more than $1.2 million in scholarships to public and private high school seniors who reside within the Morgan Hill Unified School District.

The festival also has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in mini-grants for elementary and middle schools, as well as providing significant stipends for volunteers from school groups, sports teams, booster clubs and other community non-profit organizations. With a loss of revenue last year due to inclement weather, and with the cancellation of the Mushroom Mardi Gras this year, the board has also made the difficult decision to not award any scholarships, grants or stipends this year. The board will re-evaluate their position in 2021.

“We sincerely regret the disappointment these decisions create for so many and are saddened that so many who were looking forward to joining us this year will not be able to participate in the Mushroom Mardi Gras,” Minnich said. “This was a difficult decision and we did not take it lightly. We hope all remain in good health and are safe during these unprecedented times

Another deciding factor is that the food and music festival relies heavily on school groups and clubs and nonprofit organizations, and with the schools out, organizers felt that they might not get the volunteer need for the festival because all the kids are out of school and it’s really hard to pull parents and students volunteers in, she said.

“We look forward to next year, May 29-30, 2021. We hope to come back bigger and better,” Minnich said. “We just want people to stay safe and healthy. We’ll get through this together. It was a heart-breaking decision for us because we have a lot of longevity on the board.  This is something that’s really close  to all of our hearts so we didn’t take this decision lightly. We felt that we needed to follow the proper  CDC protocols.”

The festival will “definitely need a lot of support” next year, she said.

Volunteers prepare garlic bread during a recent festival. It takes about 4,000 volunteers to put on the annual celebration of garlic.

The board of directors of the Gilroy Garlic Festival also found it emotionally hard to cancel the event originally scheduled for the last weekend in July.

“We anguished over this decision,” said 2020 Board President Tom Kline. “It was something that we worked through and it was the only responsible choice we had.”

Money raised from the festival goes to support local schools and nonprofit organizations. In 2019, the festival gave $250,000 to groups in the South Valley region in exchange for volunteer hours.

“We anguished over this decision and it impacts on everyone in our community,” Kline said. “It broke our hearts. Honestly, this makes next year all the more important. We want to redouble our efforts for 2021 to make it better than ever. We’re at this point looking forward to just getting into the plans of 2021 and focusing on that.”

Marty Cheek