LEOMINSTER — The 30th annual Johnny Appleseed Arts and Cultural Festival on Saturday will be highlighting the “Leominster Strong” mantra that has taken hold in the community in the wake of the devastating storm.
Longtime volunteer event planner and facilitator Rick Marchand shared that the major fundraiser this year will be a 50/50 raffle hosted by the Leominster High School girls soccer team with proceeds benefiting the Leominster Flood Relief Fund.
“The atmosphere around town has grown stronger each day since we all struggled through close to one foot of rain,” he said. “For many households, the rain caused such damage and heartache. For those unscathed by the rain, reaching out to those impacted has been significant and makes our community even stronger than before.”
Attendees can stop by the information booth during the Sept. 23 festival being held downtown from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., rain or shine, to purchase 50/50 raffle tickets for a $5 donation per ticket or five chances for $20.
“We hope to raise a lot of money to help the families in need,” Marchand conveyed.
The large-scale free, family friendly event is one that residents of the greater community look forward to each year. Over 220 vendors, two stages with live music and entertainment, multicultural food court, and more will be featured at the celebration of all things Leominster and arguably its most famous hometown native, Johnny Appleseed.
Main stage entertainment includes the Leominster High School marching band and chorus, city based International Veterans Chorus, and more. Recording artist Cara Brindisi from Season 22 of “The Voice” will be performing again at the festival, this time with her newly formed band at noon.
The Leominster Rotary Club is hosting an old-fashioned barbecue and will be providing as many as 1,700 complimentary meals for children, families, and individuals “that could use a hand-up,” Marchand said.
“The food is donated by Life Care (Center) of Leominster, the Rotarians are cooking the meals, and AIS office furniture of Leominster along with a few other local sponsors are providing the Rotarians with a $10,000 donation which they in turn donate the funds back to the community,” he shared. “A perfect circle of life, a perfect circle of caring.”
The longtime city resident said that during the 11 months it takes to plan the festival, he works with one other individual who assists with social media. During the festival, there are as many as 50 professional staff and dedicated volunteers “that help execute the event.”
Marchand credits community support and “sustainability” when it comes to the festival’s continued success and marking its 30th anniversary.
“The City of Leominster has events throughout the year, but the test of sustainability has come with time, where the festival is truly a celebration of community,” Marchand said. “In the past thirty years, the sponsors have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to ensure this event takes place and they have a chance to be a part of the event. Without our sponsors, there would be no festival in the caliber in which it exists today.”
“Due to the pandemic, we were unable to host an outdoor gathering so in lieu of that setting, we pulled off a ‘Music Therapy Concert’ inside the City Hall,” Marchand said of how they pivoted in 2020. “The event was closed to the public but with the help of professional videographers, sound, and lighting, we were able to provide over five hours of musical performances shared on local access television. It was a hit, and the music was outstanding. The next year, we were able to reinstitute the festival setting with lots of attention given to social distancing, food safety, and the wearing of masks when appropriate.”
Marchand said that the festival has become a multigenerational affair and “is quite interesting as many of the attendees have been coming to the festival as long as they can remember.”
“As children, then adolescents, and now adults with their own families, they return to the city to enjoy a celebration of community and reunion as well,” he stated. “There is one couple that shared with me they actually met at the festival as teenagers, started dating, and are now married!”
For more information follow Johnny Appleseed Festival-Leominster on Facebook.