NORTH SMITHFIELD – A popular family event that draws thousands of guests to the North Smithfield High School grounds each year will not take place in 2020, organizers announced this week.

The Great Pumpkin Festival originally scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19 has been cancelled and will return in 2021, according to Chairperson Elizabeth Featherston.

“Looking at everything, we felt the safety of the community was much more important than the festival,” Featherston told NRI NOW.

The committee begins planning the event nearly a year in advance and had already secured vendors, activities, food trucks and more for the annual fall celebration. Featherston notes the group has held meetings via Zoom since the start of the pandemic, but held off on making a decision on whether or not to cancel the event until this week.

“At this point, and it’s not going to go from limits on gathering of more than 250 in July to more than 5,000 in September,” she said of state restrictions on distancing put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The community event serves as a fundraiser for local non-profits and the chairwoman said the group considered organizing an alternative activity, but ultimately decided it would be safer to hold off.

Last year’s funds allowed the committee to sponsor two scholarships for graduating seniors, as well as make a donation to the 2020 commencement ceremony. The recipients this year were Ethan Garneau and James Hanlon, and the scholarships were presented by Pumpkinfest Co-Chairperson Brian Grtland at the virtual senior awards night for the school.

Vendors who had signed on for the 2020 event were either issued a refund or offered the chance to have a space secured for next year.  The group also sent letters to the sponsors telling them to take any donations earmarked for Pumpkinfest and turn that back to their own businesses and employees.

“I know a lot of businesses have had losses,” Featherston said. “We couldn’t do what we do without them.”

During the down time, the Pumpkinfest website is being revamped to allow people to donate money, or order a spot at the fair online. The digital upgrade was compliments of a new North Smithfield-based business, Coffee Hour Marketing, whose staff donated their time.

They’ve also begun planning for next year’s event and have already announced the date: September 18, 2021.

“We’re just going to try to make 2021 bigger and better than it ever has been before,” Featherston said, noting much of next year’s event is already planned.  “We’re really excited that we’re getting a jump start.  We’ve already started to schedule events.”

Featherston said she’s disappointed not to be able to bring people together for the fun event following a difficult year, but understands it’s for the best.

“It was very sad for us that this choice had to be made, because it is just such nice event for the community and the town,” she said.

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