A behind the scenes look: Bringing charitable support & family fun to the community
By Kim Chiomento, Staff Writer, The Times
KENNETT –Terry Forte knows mushrooms. Her dad, Peter Alonzo Sr., and grandfather, Alfonso Alonzo, started growing mushrooms in the early 1940’s. Also, she has been married 47 years to her husband, Rich, a mushroom grower who is also the Vice President of Sales for Lambert Spawn which provides technical service for the mushroom industry.
Forte has been volunteering behind the scenes and a part of organizing the Festival from its earliest days. Her warmth, enthusiasm and humor is certainly contagious. Her husband, Rich, has served multiple terms on the Festival’s Board of Directors and has been instrumental in bringing the very popular grower’s exhibit to the event.
When it was announced at the Spring 2014 Mushroom Gala that Forte and her husband were to be named the 2014 Mushroom Festival’s honorary chairs; it was a perfect fit. “It was a total surprise; I was absolutely shocked,” she says, “I had no idea people knew how much I love this event and am so HONORED to be in this role.” The Fortes are being handed the reins by Jo-Beth and Mark Thompson, honorary chairs of the highly successful 2013 Festival.
To put things in perspective, twenty-nine years ago the Festival was less than a block long, held one afternoon, and featured simple activities like a mushroom picking contest, small sampling of food and meeting local growers. Fewer than 100 people attended.
Today, the weekend-long event expects crowds of close 100,000 people, spans nearly a mile in length and takes the efforts of hundreds of well-organized volunteers. Popular events include the Friday night kick-off parade, the Soup & Wine Tasting tent and national fried mushroom eating contest.
The Festival is officially managed and run by The Mushroom Festival, Inc., but as Forte will tell you, Festival Director, Kathi Lafferty, is the heart and soul of this huge event. “Kathi is nothing short of amazing. She LIVES the Festival for most of the year, and her time is 100% volunteered.” Forte also has great praise for Carla Lucas, the Festival’s secretary and photographer, “She is an awesome resource and works very hard behind the scenes.”
Lafferty, a Kennett Square native, whose family owns Lafferty & Sons, Inc. Mushrooms has been coordinating the Festival for 11 years. “The life-long friendships and relationships are what helps me get the job done and why I love being a part of this wonderful event, “ she says, “It’s great to pick up the phone and personally know the person at the other end of the line who also wants the related Festival logistics to go as well as I do. The people of Kennett Square are just terrific.”
When asked about her thoughts on the Festival, Lafferty, whose commitment to the Festival remains stronger than ever proclaims: “I LOVE a party! When the Festival gets here I just do not want it to end.” Despite exhaustion from a year of hard work and planning “The adrenaline just keeps you going!”
Forte says her favorite part of this annual event is seeing all the faces, “I love the familiar faces and the new faces experiencing the Festival together. To see families having a great time, how the Festival has grown, and our vibrant town doing so well is a real joy.”
Forte would like to help spread the word that the proceeds from the festival do not return to the mushroom industry, but rather, the local community. 2004 was the first year Festival starting awarding charitable grants; Forte and Lafferty estimate the total amount raised was $5,000.
The 2013 Festival awarded $72,000 in grants to local non-profit organizations. Each grant application is reviewed by a committee that focuses on the applicant’s mission, non profit (501C-3) status and the potential grant’s impact on the local community. Grants are announced at the Festival’s annual Spring Gala.
Forte will continue to be actively volunteering during this year’s Festival but also gets to enjoy some special privileges too. She is looking forward to riding in the parade with her two granddaughters at her side. For the record, Forte LOVES mushrooms, “When I have friends over, I insist on featuring at least one dish containing mushrooms,” Her favorite? “Sausage stuffed mushrooms…absolutely delicious!”
Together, The Mushroom Festival, Inc. and Kennett Area Restaurant & Merchant Association (KARMA) brought the highly publicized, first annual, ”Midnight in the Square” New Year’s Eve celebration to the heart of Kennett Borough. This popular family event features entertainment and a giant illuminated mushroom “drop” to help those attending countdown and ring in the New Year.
However, Midnight in the Square is in need of support. Lafferty estimates that it costs $25,000 to put-on this family friendly evening; costs include security, sound system, event set-up & clean-up. Like the Mushroom Festival, it is expected to experience robust growth and is currently actively seeking sponsorship partners.
Individuals can also help support Midnight in the Square by purchasing Christmas ornaments featuring a picture of the giant illuminated Mushroom and related celebration. Ornaments will be available for purchase ($10) in just a few weeks at the Mushroom Cap – State Street, Kennett Square (www.themushroomcap.com)
For a schedule of Festival events visit mushroomfestival.org. To learn more about Midnight in the Square sponsorship opportunities contact Kathy Lafferty: 610-925-3373.