The Darby Volunteer Fire Department held its annual Strawberry Fest fundraiser this past weekend.
The raffle-style fundraiser is the department’s biggest — and only — fundraising event of the year. This July marked the first in-person festival since 2019.
Attendees bought raffle tickets for $1 (or six for $5) to be entered into the drawings. Prizes included strawberries, shortcakes, fishing trips and more. Bands performed live music on the stage up front, and cotton candy was served for all.
“This event is near and dear to our hearts,” said Jereme Feather, a volunteer firefighter. “As a fire personnel, just to see all the love and support of the community is an amazing thing.”
The money goes to helping fund equipment and cover additional costs for the fire department. The star of the show, the strawberries, were donated from the People’s Market in Darby. Other items were donated from small businesses in Darby and as far away as Sula and Victor. Feather said someone even donated from Texas this year.
“As a volunteer service, we don’t get what the paid departments get,” Feather said. “Our chief always finds a way to make the money stretch, but this community support is so important.”
The fire department was founded in 1954, and the annual Strawberry Fest began not long after, said Weston Jones, a firefighter who has been on the force for 26 years.
For a long time, the festival was the only way the fire department made money, Jones and Feather explained. While still accounting for a majority of the department’s budget, now the volunteer firefighters have other ways of generating funds, including collaborating with other departments and federal program funding.
Still, nothing raises money like the Strawberry Fest, the firefighters said.
“We are very fortunate to live in a very giving community,” Jones said.
The firefighters weren’t sure exactly how many people would show up, since tickets were still being bought as the Strawberry Fest began. Both anticipated a good turnout. Around 20 people had shown up by the time the event officially started at 5 p.m., and Jones figured the festival would continue for three or four hours.
The best part of the night is getting to meet — or reunite — with Darby and Ravalli County residents, the two agreed.