No easy choices at Shrimp Feast

Published 9:18 pm Saturday, October 12, 2013

In 35 years, Shrimp Feast, the Suffolk Ruritan Club’s extremely popular kickoff event for the Suffolk Peanut Fest, has never been canceled.

Even this year, when inches of rain fell across the Suffolk Executive Airport, soaking the grounds and turning the Shrimp Feast site into a new lake, the volunteers persevered. They had put a year of planning into the effort, and it’s likely that nobody on site had a greater desire for the event to continue as planned.

They kept working, even after the power at the site went out due to a lightning strike. They kept working, even when it seemed there was no way for even the most avid partiers to safely enjoy their shrimp, barbecue and adult beverages. They kept working, even though the bands scheduled to provide entertainment for the afternoon had canceled their appearances the previous day. Even after the Peanut Fest grounds had been closed, they kept working to provide carryout plates so ticketholders would get something in exchange for the $30 each they had paid for their tickets.

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Only when police finally closed Airport Road did the Ruritans finally concede they had been well and truly beaten by a merciless weather system that threatened to wreck Peanut Fest completely. Only then did they give up and send folks home.

My hat’s off to the Suffolk Ruritans.

As the rain fell on Wednesday and I looked at a weather forecast that showed no real relief until Saturday … or Sunday … or maybe Monday … I had decided in my heart to ditch the Suffolk News-Herald’s plans for setting up a mobile newsroom in a tent at Peanut Fest. We confirmed that decision around lunchtime on Thursday, and I had half expected the Ruritans to do the same.

But the Shrimp Feast requires far more advanced preparation than a mobile newsroom. E.C. Harris, an organizer of the event from the Ruritan Club, confirmed this week the club had incurred many expenses that would have to be paid, whether the event had gone forward or not. 10,000 pounds of shrimp. Rental of the space at the airport. Payments to community organizations that were there to help with the event. Equipment rental. Insurance. The list goes on.

To make matters worse, an event of the size and character of Shrimp Feast cannot just be rescheduled. The shrimp, for instance, could not be served on a different day, as they’d already been cooked.

So the Ruritans set out to try to make the event happen in the midst of a squall.

In the end, there were no good solutions for the Shrimp Feast, and that fact was bound to bother some folks who had bought tickets for the event. The Ruritans will meet this week to decide how to proceed, whether to offer refunds and how to accomplish that task if it’s what they choose to do.

The Shrimp Feast is the Suffolk Ruritans’ largest charitable fundraiser of the year, and a rash of refunds is likely to seriously hurt those charitable efforts, but Harris and many of its members understand the frustration of those who bought the tickets, only to be turned away.

The Ruritans do great work in this community, supporting many worthy causes that count on their donations, and it’s often hard work. But it’s probably never been harder than it was on Thursday.