Festivals take on new form during COVID

ORLANDO | How do you hold a festival and make sure people socially distance and wear masks? The simple answer: you don’t. Keenly aware of the obstacles they faced in holding a festival in the throes of pandemic, schools and parishes throughout the Diocese of Orlando got creative.

While some schools cancelled events, others chose to make the best of a rough situation. Considering most festivals are a significant part of the fundraising budget, many felt cancelling was not an option.

Ed Eberl helped put St. Peter Catholic Church in DeLand’s Oktoberfest together (Sept. 25 – Oct. 25). The event has run for 69 years, so Eberl, an ad man, put some thought into how to carry on. Trying to “emulate” what they really do, he included their traditional sweepstakes, but this year tickets were purchased online. They held a live Bingo socially distanced of course and added an art contest extended to youth throughout Volusia County.

Adding to the fun are virtual rides. Guests to the VirtualOktoberfest.org site can board several rides from all over the country, virtually, from roller coasters to ferris wheels. He thought the kids would like it, but was surprised to see everyone enjoying it. “We’re doing better than we thought we would and it’s fun,” he said.

Eberl expects response to be lower since many guests come from as far as Ocala and Daytona Beach, but “That’s okay,” he said. The money helps the school and parents who struggle to cover the cost of annual tuition. He said even a quarter of the usual funds raised “will help families in need.” In a year when many parents have lost jobs, the funds are needed more than ever.

St. Peter Catholic School Principal Charlotte Funston noted, “This Virtual Oktoberfest gives us the opportunity to ‘gather’ together as a community to support the school when we cannot gather in person. Oktoberfest has a very long history in DeLand and we wanted to be able to carry it on in spite of COVID-19.”

For Annunciation Catholic Academy in Altamonte Springs, the choice was to go forward with only an online raffle. “Though we can’t be together for our Community Fall Festival this year, we can still raise funds for our neighbors in need,” said Patty Kahle, Annunciation’s principal. One hundred percent of the proceeds went to assist local charities during this critical time.

Sue Mohr, All Souls Parish festival chairperson noted, “We’re the largest event in Sanford. We really reach a lot of people.” After receiving numerous calls about holding the Community Harvest Festival, she thought, “We can at least do something to build the community, so we’re taking it virtual.” Their online festival runs Nov. 6-8.

In its 12th year, events include livestreamed music bands, an online auction and an online jail where guests to the site can select victims by their photos and participants can pay to put them in jail. Raffles tickets are sent in the mail and “attendees” place online orders for pick-up. “Sanford itself is important to us,” said Mohr. “It’s a hard time right now for everybody, so if we can bring a little bit of normalcy in a safe way, that just means a lot.” Mohr noted funds go into parish and school ministries.

Although St. Mary Magdalen Parish’s CommunityFest usually funds parish ministries, this year pastor, Father Charlie Mitchell put forth a new vision. Wanting to “stir community spirit” in harmony with past festivals, the One Community 2020 Challenge still embraces the “need to do something and get involved.” On Oct. 17-18, participants were invited to wear the Altamonte Springs parish and school colors – blue and gold, fill virtual baby bottles for the USCCB’s Walking With Moms in Need program and gather 2,020 diapers for Life Choices Medical Clinic, a local pro-life clinic.

To help those especially impacted by the pandemic, Father Mitchell hopes parishioners will fill food carts with at least 2,020 pounds of food. Because the fun is in giving, parishioners also supported seminarians and the Diocese of Orlando Mission Office, which assists the Sister Diocese, San Juan de la Maguana in the Dominican Republic.

Father Mitchell noted every part of the event helps others “beyond parish boundaries. He emphasized the importance of “going into the larger community and being Christ in those places where people are hungry, people are fearful, and need to know the love of Jesus Christ in very practical, human ways.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, October 21, 2020

For Oktoberfest virtual rides go to https://virtualoktoberfest.org/rides/