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For months, the 20-person N.C. Whirligig Festival committee has worked to develop a plan for the 16th annual festival, knowing that the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic would probably prevent a large-scale in-person festival from happening.
“This is breaking our hearts, but we have to do what is right; we have to do what is best for the whole community,” said Theresa Mathis, festival director. “Our team has been dedicated to this, have been in countless Zoom meetings, trying to figure out what we can do. We would rather have an in-person festival, but our conscious wants to put the community before the festival and to protect it.”
There are some in-person events scheduled for the weekend of Nov. 7 and 8, but most activities will be available online, including contests and high tech virtual vendor shopping experience.
“Our hope is that families and friends will still get together and have fun,” Mathis said. “We want to celebrate our community. That’s what the festival does anyway, so that’s why we developed an online version.”
Contest deadlines are the first week in November.
A series of daily festival contests are posted online now, but their deadlines are coming up fast. The seven contests, posted on the festival’s website (www.whirligigfestivalnc.org), each have deadlines during “Whirligig Week,” Nov. 2-6.
Chalk Art Challenge deadline: Nov. 2, 8 p.m.
Video Dance Challenge deadline: Nov. 2, 8 p.m.
Coloring Pages Contest deadline: Nov. 2, 8 p.m.
Bingo Card Contest deadline: Nov. 3, 8 p.m.
Whirligig Trivia Contest deadline: Nov. 2, 8 p.m.
Throwback Thursday Photo Contest deadline: Nov. 5, 8 p.m.
Foodie Friday Cooking Contest deadline: Nov. 6, 8 p.m.
Each contest has a description, rules and uploading information accessible from the homepage of the festival’s website.
All contests are free to enter, and each one offers a $100 cash first prize. Second and third place prizes are also planned with winners receiving swag bags.
“Our team wanted to make sure we provided something for the community that was fun and festive,” Mathis said, “and we encourage them to give it a whirl.”
What’s a festival without funnel cake, right? Even though most of the Whirligig Festival will be celebrated virtually, you’ll still be able to get some of the same delicious festival foods from vendors located throughout downtown Wilson on Saturday, Nov. 7, from noon to 5 p.m. “You’ll find festival favorites like funnel cakes, kettle corn and turkey legs from five or six vendors near peak shopping locations downtown, from the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park to Nash Street,” Mathis said.
Whirligig Festival merchandise will be available for sale at the Whirligig Park on Nov. 7 and 8 from noon to 5 p.m., featuring limited edition festival T-shirts and face masks.
“Wilson Energy has stepped up and provided us with festival T-shirts,” Mathis said.
“The shirts are Whirligig-inspired but with a COVID-19 twist that we think people will like.”
Face masks featuring Whirligig art will also be sold in two styles: buff/neck gaiter and a typical ear strap style.
The 2020 Whirligig Festival is partnering with the Downtown Merchants Association for a “Social Distancing Sidewalk Sale Saturday” on Saturday, Nov. 7. Even stores that aren’t usually open on Saturdays will be open in hopes that visitors will begin their holiday shopping with them.
Afraid you’ll miss out on buying from a favorite vendor who always has a booth at the NC Whirligig Festival because the event is a virtual one? Chances are that your vendor will be involved in the virtual vendor marketplace and you can still “browse” their booths.
The festival has partnered with Eventeny, a company that organizes and run large events online, to run the vendor marketplace. Eventeny has worked on 800 festivals that converted to virtual festivals for 2020. All previous festival vendors were invited to participant and the response has been phenomenal.
“We are creating a virtual vendor marketplace, with our website being an entryway to a virtual marketplace,” Mathis said. “Each vendor has a ‘booth’ in the marketplace and you can ‘stroll’ through the market by category. You see the little booths as tiles on the screen and can ‘enter’ the booth to browse the items.”
The virtual marketplace will not only be available the weekend of Nov. 7 and 8, but for six weeks — throughout the holiday shopping season. And not only will vendors who have participated in the Wilson festival in previous years be available, but also new vendors from across the country who otherwise would not have been able to participate.
New to this year’s festival are “give back” events on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7 and 8. On Saturday, the festival will collaborate with the United Way of Wilson County’s “Operation Wrap Up,” collecting new and gently used winter clothing items warm items. A donation drop off box will be located at the festival merchandise booth at the Whirligig Park.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, the festival partners with the Wilson Medical Center to do a blood drive at the hospital. Wilson Medical Center will have a tent at the Whirligig Park to give out information about the blood drive and their three-week fitness challenge called the Whirl-Round Wilson Fitness Challenge.
One interesting partnership that has emerged from a new way of holding a festival during a pandemic is that between the NC Whirligig Festival and the University of Mount Olive.
The school offers a degree in event planning and hospitality, but with so many events being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior class was having trouble finding projects for their class credits. The school reached out to Mathis and asked if their were any opportunities for this class’ senior students with the Whirligig Festival, and the committee put them work helping with each of the contests being held during WhirliWeek.
“I’m glad we could help them,” Mathis said. “These are the students who will run our festivals in the future.”
For more information about the N.C. Whirligig Festival, contests and activities, visit www.whiligigfestival.nc.org, call 252-289-9650, or view the event’s advertisement in the print edition of Wide Awake Wilson.