NEWBURYPORT — Yankee Homecoming, slated to take place July 31 through Aug. 8, may look different this year, but committee members are working hard to maintain the integrity of the city's popular summer festival despite COVID-19 concerns. 

Last year, the committee was forced to cancel the major event, which began in 1958 and is held from the last week of July into early August as a nod to the U.S. Coast Guard's birthday on Aug. 4. Festival organizers offered a few modified events, including a door decorating contest, a scavenger hunt through local businesses and a few drive-in movie nights at Nock Middle School.

Yankee Homecoming President Dennis Palazzo said the committee hopes to offer a lot more this year while maintaining social distancing and other COVID-19 guidelines. 

"Some of the events probably won't happen as we know them," he said, noting that Olde Fashioned Sunday, Family Day at Maudslay State Park, the fireworks show and nighttime concerts are all unlikely to take place due to the crowds they draw.

The drive-in movies were a huge success last year, according to Palazzo, and the committee may expand that to five nights this year. 

The committee launched its Takeout Tuesday program last year, encouraging residents and visitors to support restaurants amid dining restrictions. 

Anyone who emailed photos of their receipt after ordering from a local restaurant was entered into raffles for prizes, including gift certificates to local restaurants. A scavenger hunt, which may return this year, also encouraged people to visit local businesses.

The committee was unable to host its annual luncheon for veterans and delivered meals to 500 local veterans instead. Similar efforts are in the works this year.

Other events the committee hopes to host include the morning workout series on the waterfront, a craft show, art on display at the Bartlet Mall, a blood drive with the Knights of Columbus and a rolling parade, which would be modified depending on what COVID-19 guidelines look like this summer. The fishing tournament and golf tournament could also make a return, but after-parties would likely not be permitted.

The committee would like to host the annual Battle of the Bands for high school students, but submissions and voting may have to take place virtually to ensure COVID-19 protocol compliance, Palazzo said.

There is consideration to host the Brewfest with modifications. Instead of having a large tent with people walking around to different microbrewers' stands to try their brews, the committee might spread it out with small tables and have servers distribute samples. 

In lieu of Olde Fashioned Sunday, the committee is looking at hosting a cornhole tournament and other modified activities. 

Additionally, the committee would like to organize some type of memorial in remembrance of those who died due to COVID-19 complications. Those details are still in the works.

Festival organizers kicked off a food drive in April 2020 with the items collected benefiting The Salvation Army, The Pettengill House and the food pantry at First Parish Church of Newbury. There are collection bins in front of Market Basket at 25 Storey Ave., Dunkin' at 45 Storey Ave. and Dunkin' at 167 State St.

Palazzo said the committee expected the food drive last year to only last a few weeks, but the donations continued to pour in. Each week, volunteers have been able to fill a car with canned goods, pasta, sauces, toiletries and other donated items, which are then dropped off at the local charities.

"I'm just amazed at the generosity of the community because they keep giving," he said. "As long as that remains, we are going to keep collecting and helping these food pantries benefit."

The Yankee Homecoming president acknowledged that all details about this year's event are subject to change, saying the committee will adapt as more guidance is released by state and local officials. 

The committee is always looking for volunteers as well as ideas to improve the annual festival. For more information or to volunteer in any capacity, visit www.yankeehomecoming.com.

"Without everyone's support, there would be no Yankee Homecoming," Palazzo said, expressing his gratitude for the community over the years.

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