Blueberry 5

The Kiwanis Club of Arlington sold more than 1,100 10-pound boxes of blueberries as a fund-raiser in late June, setting a new record for sales. (Photo by Rebecca Burton)

In a smoothie, in a pie or just popped into the mouth – blueberries are tasty and nutritious.

And for the Kiwanis Club of Arlington, they are proving an enduring way to raise funds in support of initiatives for children – even in a world turned topsy-turvy by a pandemic.

“COVID-19 took away a lot this year, but not blueberry sales – we had a very good year,” said Julia Wright, treasurer and “blueberry queen” of the club, which for the past eight summers sold 10-pound boxes of blueberries as a fund-raiser.

The club’s first order, in 2012, was for 250 boxes from a farm in New Jersey.

“We sold every box,” Wright said. “We increased our order the next year, and the next.” To a point where, in 2019, the club sold out its 800 boxes.

But then came the spring of 2020, with its public-health concerns and government-imposed lockdown. The club worried that its biggest fund-raiser of the year was in jeopardy.

Turned out that wasn’t the case. Not only did the first 1,000 boxes – 10,000 pounds – sell out, but club member Mary Anthony made a quick jaunt up to New Jersey at the last minute, picking up extra boxes to fill orders on a wait-list.

Wright and her blueberry-sale colleague Greg Craddock credited new ideas for taking the effort to its next level.

2020 proved “a great example of how we in Kiwanis depend on each other, and on others,” Craddock said.

First to step up the plate was Carolyn Carlson, a local communications specialist and the wife of former Kiwanis Club president Dave Carlson. She weighed in with marketing ideas.

“Kiwanis has a very positive ‘brand,’” Carlson said, but needed to “connect to a wider audience.”

“I actually saw an opening,” she said, leading the charge on an e-mail and social-media campaign to ensure that past purchasers were kept in the loop.

Through a connection at a local church, Wright connected with Rebecca Burton, a local photographer and videographer, who traveled to New Jersey in late June to chronicle the blueberry-harvesting effort.

“It was a hot day – it certainly was,” Barton said. “It was wonderful to see the workers; they were so happy to be working [after an economic lockdown].”

Burton created a video to spotlight the sales effort, and Kiwanis then teamed up with Crescendo, the youth program of the Arlington Philharmonic, to provide evocative Felix Mendelssohn music as performed by an octet of students.

“It’s really lovely to see [the music] paired with the video,” said Elizabeth Stahr, music director of Crescendo.

Purchasers of the blueberries also were given the option of buying extra in support of the Arlington Food Assistance Center. All told, 600 pounds of the berries were contributed to the social-safety-net organization this year, for distribution to families in need.

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