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'A turning point': Yearly Strawberry Festival returning to Mattituck after COVID pause

Lions Club members washed strawberries at the Mattituck

Lions Club members washed strawberries at the Mattituck Lions Club Strawberry Festival in 2018. The event is returning this year, after it was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Festival publicity chairman Rob Nine said the return feels "like a turning point." Credit: Randee Daddona

Organizers of the decades-old Annual Strawberry Festival in Mattituck say state COVID-19 health and safety guidelines will be in place as one of Southold’s signature events, canceled last year because of the pandemic, returns next month.

The strawberry festival, in its 66th year, is sponsored and organized by the Mattituck Lions Club and normally draws thousands of people.

Rob Nine, publicity chairman for the Mattituck Lions Club, did not specify how many are expected to attend this year, but said hundreds will help with planning, setup and staffing.

The return of the festival, he said, "does feel like a turning point for us and everyone" discussing the event with club members.

The event, which will start on June 15 and end June 20, will feature midway rides and games from Reithoffer Shows, an international food court, craft and business vendors, and the crowning of the 2021-22 Strawberry Queen, Nine said.

Organizers, he noted, will follow state and local guidelines for county fairs and festivals, issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on May 17.

Under those rules — part of remaining restrictions to decrease COVID-19 risk — fairs and festivals may require masks and total attendees must be limited to enforce 6-feet distancing among individuals not of the same party, unless they present proof of completed vaccination.

Events with over 5,000 expected attendees must get prior approval from the New York State Department of Health.

"We will follow all state and local guidelines and are speaking with local and state authorities for best practices on crowd management," Nine said, adding that the festival's health and safety chairmen are in "constant contact with state, county and town authorities to make sure all necessary documentation is filled out and all expectations are aligned."

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell said the community "is thrilled" to see the celebration of strawberries return to town, expressing confidence that organizers would hold a safe event.

"The Lions Club members are very responsible and conscious members of the community. We are very confident that they will put measures in place and will work very hard to ensure everyone's safety," Russell said.

Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley said the town had approved a special-event application, and he had reached out to the Suffolk County Department of Health to verify that they had a safety plan. He was waiting to hear back on those details and said the department would work with the club "to make sure the plan is enacted."

Suffolk Department of Health officials did not immediately return requests for comment.

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