MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — There will be a new beer vendor at the 21st annual Olde Tyme Harvest Festival on Mechanic Street on Saturday, Oct. 27.
Despite last-minute concerns expressed by two of the three members of Township Committee, the township governing body approved a temporary alcohol license for Jersey Cape Diagnostic Training and Opportunity Center, a nonprofit with centers in Rio Grande and the Crest Haven complex.
The group expects the day to be a considerable fundraiser, offering local craft beers at the popular event.
But Committeeman Timothy Donohue raised several concerns at the Monday, Oct. 1, workshop meeting before the vote, particularly that committee members were not given many details about the plan before it was ready for approval.
“I think this is a big game-changer in our harvest fest, and I’m not sure that it’s a positive one,” Donohue said. He expressed confidence that Jersey Cape is a good group but suggested the addition of a beer garden could change the beloved festival. “We’re pitching that tent. We’re encouraging people to come there to drink. We’re changing the atmosphere.”
Donohue wanted more details on Jersey Cape, questioning associate executive director Anne Garrison, who attended the meeting.
“We have numerous programs, all with a common theme of training people to work in the community,” she said. “Some of them have disabilities. Some of them may have had a brush with the law and maybe had some trouble gaining employment after that.”
Some of their clients dropped out of high school, she said.
The organization can help them get a GED, help with job readiness training, which is a requirement for people receiving public assistance, and help place people in jobs, Garrison said. Some who are more profoundly disabled can receive help with basic life skills, she said.
The organization is best known for making beach tags. The organization makes most of the beach tags used in the state, with the proceeds of that work helping fund the program.
This would be the first time Jersey Cape has done a fundraiser like selling beer at the Harvest Festival. Garrison told Township Committee that it would also serve as outreach, letting community members know what they do, “and maybe make a little money on top of that.”
The festival is one of the biggest events of the year in the township, with Mechanic Street shut to vehicles from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Saturday. It includes crafts, food vendors, rides, music and more as well as a Halloween costume contest for pets and kids. There is a rain date of Sunday, Oct. 28, from noon to 5 p.m.
Many community groups have tables at the event, to raise money and for community outreach.
Donohue suggested Middle Township organizations should have been given a chance at the beer garden opportunity as well, and raised concerns over competing with businesses that hold a township liquor license.
“The Bellevue has been doing this for 21 years,” he said, citing the Cape May Court House tavern that regularly participates in the festival. “We’re going out of our way to create competition for somebody that holds a liquor license in our town, who has been coming to every Harvest Festival, rain or shine.”
Also at the workshop, Committeeman Jeffrey DeVico said he shared many of Donohue’s concerns and suggested the move could set a precedent for future festivals.
“If this goes through this year, what’s next year? Could we have 10 of them out there?” he asked.
Both men said there should have been more discussion before the matter came for a vote.
“It seems like you’re putting the cart before the horse,” Donohue said.
He raised concerns about intoxication, seeking more details on the group’s plans for control at the booth. As planned, beer patrons will have to show ID to get a wrist band. The bartender will have a hole punch, putting a hole in the wristband with each purchase, with only two beers sold to any individual. Donohue suggested the volunteers will not know how many beers someone had before arriving, however.
“There’s a lot of devil-in-the-details sort of things here. We’ve got to be very careful about this,” he said.
Donohue also questioned the source of the beer, which is to include Cape May Brewery, pointing out that there are breweries in Middle Township. Garrison said two Middle breweries will be included, Seven Mile Brewery and Bucket Brigade Brewery. The organization included Cape May Brewery because some of its clients work there, building boxes, she said.
Along with several other Harvest Festival votes, committee had a resolution to approve a special event license to allow the beer tent for Jersey Cape. The group had already applied for a vendor spot at the festival. Mayor Michael Clark said he discussed the issue with Police Chief Christopher Leusner, who said he had no concerns and that the township rarely denies a special event license.
When the matter came for a vote at the regular meeting, DeVico decided to support granting the license, joining Clark to vote yes. Donohue said he did not want to vote for the temporary license, but did not want to be negative, either, and so abstained from that vote.