LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — So there were the stacks of hotdogs, hamburgers, barbecue, chicken breasts, buns, French fries, sugar and flour waiting to be unpacked – not to mention the roughly 80 boxes of peaches that still had to be peeled.
That was the task facing the faithful group of volunteers at Gilbert Primary School entering the final countdown to Thursday’s Lexington County Peach Festival. But for several hours Wednesday afternoon, the workers took their places in what has become a fine-tuned assembly line as they made the final preparations for the 55th annual celebration.
“It’s part of being proud of where you’re from and taking pride in your community,” said Amanda Barefoot, a member of this year’s festival advisory board and one of the 50 or so volunteers Wednesday. “When you’re a part of Gilbert, it’s ingrained in you.”
Meanwhile nearby, Linda Ashley had taken her place along an assembly line of peach peelers as they prepared the event’s main ingredient.
“I’ve been peeling peaches (for the festival) for about 15 or 20 years,” Ashley said, explaining the keys is to have a good knife, soft peaches and a lot of practice.
Ashley knows the importance of that service better than most. She will be working at the Peach Delight stand (featuring a mixture of peaches and ice cream) and expects to serve up about 1,500 orders Thursday. “It’s a total community effort,” she said.
Wednesday’s volunteers included women, men, college students, teenagers and elementary students. The younger helpers sorted and washed the peaches. Only the veteran workers did the peeling.
Several generations of families also were on hand Wednesday. Barefoot’s mother, Linda Gunter, is also volunteering this year as is her daughter, 9-year-old Katelyn Barefoot.
“I stopped counting (how many years she’s been involved),”Amanda Barefoot said. “I think this is my 20-something.”
Robbie Hughes, a Gilbert High School graduate who now attends North Greenville University, has attended his share of Peach Festivals in the past but had never helped out until this year.
“It’s pretty cool seeing how everything comes together,” he said as he refilled bowls with peaches.
Beth Bridgers said that after the long day of peeling, the “peachy” smell would linger for hours. But she wasn’t complaining.
“If I had to sit in my kitchen and do this, it would be boring,” she said. “But to be able to sit here and catch up with everybody is just fun.”
Peach Festival advisory board chairman Brandon Ashley said preparing for the annual festival has become the community’s Christmas Eve of sorts.
But he admitted that staying on task can sometimes be a challenge.
“When you smell the peach cobbler and put the peach ice cream on top of it, everybody’s mouths start watering,” he said. “If you can make it with a peach, there is a good chance we’ve got it.”
IF YOU GO
What: 55th Lexington County Peach Festival
When: 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Thursday; fireworks at 10 p.m.
Where: Gilbert Community Park, Rikard Circle (off Main Street behind Gilbert United Methodist Church and between Gilbert Primary and Gilbert Middle schools)
Admission: Free, with charges for concessions
Sponsor: The Gilbert Community Club
BY THE NUMBERS
Here is a sampling of the food inventory for Thursday’s Peach Festival in Gilbert
800 gallons of peach ice cream
400 pounds of peaches for cobblers
140 pounds of flour
55 pounds of butter
400 pounds of sugar