OCEANPORT — If it is the last week in May, it must be time for the Lions Club Strawberry Fair, an annual tradition that has existed in some form or another since the days of flower children and love beads.
Peter A. Dellera Jr., 52, has been involved with the fair since he was 10 when he helped clean the strawberries. In those days, it was a charming tradition: neighbors sharing a slice of strawberry shortcake and listening to music at the local school.
About 15 years ago, Dellera — now a law school graduate and fair chairman — theorized that if the Lions Club expanded the one-day event to a full-fledged fair with amusements, rides and attractions, it might also succeed in getting more volunteers for the club.
Now, the festival kicks off the state fair season. It is officially included in a list of noteworthy events on the state tourism website, and the state Department of Agriculture touts the fair, which opens Wednesday and concludes Sunday.
“I have baby chicks hatching in an incubator in the fireplace of my living room,” said Dellera, laughing. “My wife is ready to kill me.”
Caputo’s Bakery in Long Branch makes the cake and whips up the cream for the signature strawberry shortcake while the berries come from Delicious Orchards and Dearborn Farms.
In past years, volunteers used 25,000 berries and 70 gallons of whipped cream. The event is held slightly ahead of the state’s berry season to promote the Garden State’s offerings, Dellera said.
The event boasts a large traveling petting zoo including farm and exotic animals such as llamas, kangaroos, panthers and a tropical rain forest with a reptile display. Families can feed the farm animals, view educational displays or attend musical performances by groups including area high school bands and choral groups.
The fair can be found on Monmouth Park property along Oceanport Avenue by following the signs to the parking facilities. There is a $1 charge for admission, but parking is free.
The fair also will offer bracelet nights on May 27 and May 30 where, for $25, fairgoers can ride the attractions all night long. Those who are less inclined to spend a lot of time on rides still can purchase tickets as needed for individual amusements.
After the Lions Club pays expenses, 100 percent of the profits go toward charities, including the traditional ones the public service organization has long assisted: those with vision and hearing impairments, as well as college scholarships and providing necessary equipment for the local police, fire and first aid squads. “Anyone who helps me, they are doing this to show their love for their neighbors, out of the kindness of their hearts,” Dellera said. “That is why it is so special to me.”
Dellera is urging those who attend to bring their old eyeglasses to the fair, where they will be restored and distributed to those in need.
By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS • COASTAL MONMOUTH BUREAU • May 25, 2010