In 1965, Pat Harding shared her homemade shortcake recipe to serve a modest gathering of 500 people during the first Christ Church Cathedral Women’s Strawberry Festival. While the faces of both the crowd and those helping have changed in the subsequent 45 years, the guiding principles that Pat and the rest of the Cathedral Women established have remained at the heart of this annual event.
“It’s about helping as many people as we can, not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well,” says Jennifer Pace, current president of the Cathedral Women. “Our strawberry festival also helps build community right here in Indianapolis, and speaks highly of who we are as Hoosiers.”
Pace is not just playing the part of a good spokeswoman. She grew up with the Christ Church Strawberry Festival. Recollections of her first fete when, at 12 years old, she helped her mother during bake night— the evenings when the shortcakes are prepared—are just as vivid as the recent memories of her own young daughter becoming a third-generation helper for the festival. “Sharing this experience with my mother and daughter is a big part of what this event is about,” says Pace. “And it isn’t just the ladies getting involved. Husbands, fathers, and brothers pitch in wherever they can; it gives the festival a feeling of family, and, in a larger sense, community.”
For those unfamiliar with how the event goes down, $6 gets you “the works”: a big bowl of cake, ice cream, berries, and whipped topping. And while you are enjoying your tasty treat, rest assured that your money is going to the most worthy of causes.
“Ninety-five percent of the festival’s proceeds go directly to not-for-profit outreach groups,” says Pace. “Every two years our board awards funds to deserving applicants of the Cathedral Women’s Grant. That money goes to local groups like Gleaners Food Bank,The Julian Center, Craine House, Noble of Indiana, Dress For Success, Wheeler Mission, and Young Audiences of Indiana, as well as The Umoja Project that helps African orphans.”
The event kicks off at 9:30 a.m., with live entertainment starting at 10 a.m. and lasting throughout the day. The tents come down at 6 p.m., or when the supplies run out.
With over 18,000 short cakes, 9,000 pounds of berries, 850 gallons of ice cream, and 1,000 pounds of whipped topping, it is easy to think you’ve got all day. But with 20,000 people expected at this party, arriving fashionably late will leave you frustratingly empty-handed.
The event requires more than 300 volunteers throughout the day. The coordination, Pace admits, “takes a ton of work, effort, and teamwork to pull off an event this size.” Yet she also realizes that the bigger the festival, the better the outcome. “We want to let everybody in Indiana know that Cathedral Women thanks them for all of your years of support. Thanks to you, we are able to do so much good for so many people.”
If only all charity tasted this good.
Photography by Jennifer Pace