CRANBURY, NJ – With sugar added or naturally sweet, topping angel food, pound cake, or a dish of ice cream, nothing says summer quite like the taste of ripened strawberries.

While the season has yet to officially start, the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury got local taste buds in the mood for the warm weather treat Saturday afternoon, as the sun came out just in time for its annual Strawberry Festival.

From 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., young festival goers enjoyed a variety of children's games and activities outside, including face painting and magnetized fishing, a bean bag toss and miniature bowling, among others.

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Nearby, a persistent line waited for the clown twisting balloon animals, and wide-eyed children explored the emergency vehicles that members of the Cranbury Volunteer Fire Company brought out to the event.

For those looking for a little more substance before their strawberries, Boy Scouts from Cranbury Troop 52 grilled up hot dogs and hamburgers for sale separately.

Deacon Moderator Janice Luffey, who organized the event, said she was relieved the morning rain moved out by early afternoon so the festival could take place outdoors.

“I was saying a few extra prayers this morning,” she said, with a laugh. “I woke up and saw it raining and said, 'Oh please!' I went out and sang 'Mr. Sun' and the sun came out.”

According to Luffey, proceeds from the Strawberry Festival directly benefit the Deacon's Benevolence Fund, which provides emergency financial aid to members of the surrounding community.

Rent, utility bills, car repairs, insurance premiums, pharmacy payments and temporary shelter during snowstorms are some of the needs the fund helps address, Luffey said.

Inside the church hall, a community band played as people tucked into slices of angel food or pound cake or scoops of ice cream topped with generous portions of strawberries.

New to the festival this year, a bake sale encouraged those with a sweet tooth to take a little something home, and featured nut-free items, according to Luffey.

Acknowledging the market size, Luffey said the deacons will explore adding gluten-free options to next year's bake sale.

Hamilton resident Robin McGuire said this year's event is her second time coming out and she heard about it through word of mouth.

“My friend comes here and her friend plays in the band,” she said. “The strawberry shortcake is really good.”

She also said that she didn't know the festival is a fundraiser for those in need of financial assistance.

“That's fantastic!” McGuire said.

Webelos Scout mother Barbara Kennen, of Plainsboro, said her 9-year-old son Liam was taking a break from helping serve hot dogs and hamburgers to have a little bit of fun.

“He just dragged me over here, so we've been doing all the activities,” she said. “He was very cute about the race, since they've got the little young one in the race, he told his buddy, who's also in the Cubs, he said, 'Don't go fast, let him win.'”

According to Luffey, turnout for the festival is usually around 125, although attendance numbers for this year's event were not immediately available.

“I'm hoping to get a lot of money to help (those who need it),” she said.

According to Luffey, the church's 24 deacons put the personalized touch on community outreach, including welcoming new babies with care packages and sending get well cards to sick members of the congregation.

Tickets were $6 for individuals and $25 for a family pass for up to five people, if purchased in advance. If purchased at the door, tickets were $7 for individuals and $28 for a family pass for up to five people.

The First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury is located at 22 South Main Street.

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