Patrons fill Market Street as they move through the Harvest Homecoming booths for the first day of the festival in 2018. Staff photo by Tyler Stewart
Patrons fill Market Street as they move through the Harvest Homecoming booths for the first day of the festival in 2018. Staff photo by Tyler Stewart

NEW ALBANY — For 51 years the Harvest Homecoming Festival has grown to one of the most popular, and largest in the state. There is nothing like it and each October, thousands come to enjoy the festivities.

Over the span of two weeks people are entertained by a host of activities from a parade to kick off the festival, to the popular booth days which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to downtown New Albany.

But the festival is only as good as the weather because almost all the activities are outside. A few years of bad weather can not only disappoint the thousands of visitors, but also put a squeeze on the festival's operating budget. 

That is why the Harvest Homecoming Festival Foundation was established.

The foundation, administered by the Community Foundation of Southern Indiana, will ensure yearly interest income so bad weather or lost sponsorships won't threaten the festival.

"The festival success is dependent on weather," said David White, who served as Harvest Homecoming's chairman of the board in 2017 and 2018. "Harvest Homecoming has been blessed with good weather and leadership and has been able to put on a quality family event. But all it takes is a few bad years and we would have to maybe cut a few events if our revenue drops."

One of White's primary goal was starting a foundation when becoming chairman of the board. He said the festival has a yearly budget around $250,000. Proceeds are earned through sponsorships, booth rentals, riverfront activities, business luncheon, midway and other entry fees. If proceeds fall in any of those revenue sources, the festival feels the pinch.

White said while the 2018 festival was successful, there were three days of rain during booth days, including most of the day Sunday.

"Every year we hope for a great turnout. We have outstanding vendors and volunteers and a lot going for us," White said. "But we can't control the weather."

White said Harvest Homecoming started the foundation with a $15,000 donation. He said people can contribute any amount and now, the Lilly Endowment will match the donation. White is hoping the Harvest Homecoming Foundation will have $1 million in three years. People can also leave money to the foundation through wills and estates. 

"If this is something that you believe in and want to see be around another 50 years, this gives you an avenue to make sure that happens," White said. "It allows everyone to be part of Harvest Homecoming. The Community Foundation is a great partner. This foundation will ensure funding for Harvest Homecoming for years to come. If we have a couple of bad weather years back-to-back it won't affect the budget."

White said the festival also gives away a lot of its money in scholarships and to other worthwhile organizations and causes such as Blessings in a Backpack and the Town Clock Church.

Linda Speed, president of the Community Foundation, said the Harvest Homecoming Festival Foundation will allow the community the opportunity to support the festival and be part of it.

"It's a great way for the community to get involved," she said. "Anyone can donate to the foundation. And with the Lilly match, it's a great time for the community to take advantage of the increased input to the festival."

White said if all 37,000 residents in New Albany gave just $1, that would be a significant contribution.

"This [foundation] almost ensures there will always be a festival," he said. "It's the gift that will never stop giving."

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