Strawberry fans form lines early for Teen Challenge sale

Friday, May 23, 2003

A half hour before the stand selling strawberries on Independence Street in Cape Girardeau was supposed to open Thursday, 25 eager people were already waiting in line to purchase the fresh-picked fruit.

"It's not unusual to see 10 or 20 people in line when we get here in the morning," said the Rev. Jack Smart, executive director of Teen Challenge International of Mid-America, the local organization that grows the strawberries. "And we stay busy throughout the day."

It's the 22nd strawberry harvest for Teen Challenge, a long-term residential program that ministers to men with life-controlling problems. The strawberry crop is part of Teen Challenge's work program, and the money made from the sale of the strawberries goes back into the ministry.

This year's strawberry stand is set up in the Plaza Galleria parking lot. Since sales began Monday, customers have purchased more than 7,000 quarts of the plump, red fruit. Smart arrived Thursday with 1,000 quarts of berries, but he estimated they would all be sold within a couple of hours.

Those who have tasted the berries don't wonder why. Some, like Driea Rodgers of Advance, Mo., are repeat customers.

"Everyone in Advance wants them. They're very, very good berries," said Rodgers, who bought eight quarts of berries Wednesday, but was back again early Thursday for more.

The annual sale has become a tradition for many area residents, who prize the fruit.

Money for a good cause

"I come every year," said Kenneth Morgan of Cape Girardeau. "These are high quality berries, delicious. The price isn't much different from the grocery store and the money goes to a good cause."

Teen Challenge will sell strawberries at the stand through the first of June, then begin selling blueberries, followed by blackberries in July.

In conjunction with the sale, Teen Challenge will hold its 13th annual strawberry festival from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at its campus, located on County Road 621 north of Cape Girardeau.

The festival will include prize drawings, free strawberry shortcake, an auction and tours of the Teen Challenge campus.

Smart, who has been involved with the organization for 23 years, said the past two harvests haven't been very fruitful, but this year has been exceptional.

"It's been frustrating the past two years, but we've really appreciated those customers who bought berries when the crop wasn't so good," Smart said. "This year we're going to come close to supplying enough for everyone who wants them."

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