NEWBURYPORT — With Yankee Homecoming week canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival’s organizers hope to find new ways to give back to the community and lift residents’ spirits.

The decision to call off the 63rd annual weeklong summer festival came last week as the city announced it was canceling all public events until further notice.

In recent weeks, the Yankee Homecoming Committee has been collecting food for local food pantries via drop-off boxes outside the city’s Dunkin’ Donuts locations and Newburyport Bank on Storey Avenue.

And so far, Dennis Palazzo, president for this year’s Yankee Homecoming, said two carloads of groceries have been donated each week to benefit The Pettengill House, the Salvation Army, the Newbury Food Pantry and Our Neighbors’ Table.

The committee is also collecting money for local food pantries through the Yankee Homecoming website.

“It’s really cool to see the generosity of people who are coming out and helping people in their time of need,” Palazzo said.

Looking forward, though, Palazzo said he and the rest of the committee members are beginning to discuss plans for various other programs to take place this year in the festival’s absence.

Palazzo said he hopes to soon start a “senior buddies” program through which the community would write uplifting letters to local homebound seniors.

During the week the festival would have been held, July 25 through Aug. 2, Palazzo said he hopes to start a flag-flying campaign, encouraging local residents to fly their Yankee Homecoming flags in front of their homes.

Another idea, he said, would be to host a video program through a local television station about the history of Yankee Homecoming so that local residents can learn and relive past incarnations of the festival.

There are plenty of other ideas in the works, Palazzo said, including a drive-in theater in a downtown parking lot, a blood drive and a Yankee Homecoming-themed door decorating contest,

“We also might do a rolling parade around the city, and maybe an outdoor concert for nursing homes, which residents can watch from their windows,” Palazzo said. “There are all sorts of virtual things we can do. Right now, I think it’s important to lift the spirits of the community. This is a crazy time and everyone needs an uplift.”

In the fall, Palazzo said he hopes to host a scavenger hunt centered around the local business community that would ultimately aim to drive customers into downtown shops.

Palazzo emphasized that plans for all potential events are in the idea stage and will be discussed during Yankee Homecoming Committee meetings in the near future.

Ultimately, though, Palazzo said he and the rest of the committee are looking forward to planning the 2021 festival, when hopefully, the community can come together again in person.

“Now, we have two years to plan next year’s event,” Palazzo said with a laugh. “I actually have some bands lined up for next year.”

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