'Different' Pickle Festival a hit

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Music from the 1980s wafted through the speakers.

The scent of freshly-cooked funnel cakes danced with the breeze.

Movie-goers grabbed blankets, inflatable beds, lawn chairs and other items as they searched for prime sitting territory at Daughtry Field.

Seven-year-old Easton Smith, who attends Spring Creek Elementary, cradled a small bucket of cotton candy.

“It melts in your mouth,” Smith exclaimed.

His little brother, 2-year-old Maverick, munched on a bag of sour-flavored Skittles.

Just a few feet away, best friends Riley Grant and Belle Shields kicked off their shoes as they munched on french fries.

The children, along with their moms, couldn’t wait to see the 2019 version of The Lion King on an inflatable screen that fought to stay upright against a brisk wind.

Once twilight turned into dusk, the screen came to life.

Everyone found a spot and didn’t stir for the next two hours as the award-winning movie brought to life a family of lions that worked together to protect Pride Rock.

The drive-in movie was just one part of the nationally-renowned North Carolina Pickle Festival held Friday and Saturday.

“Despite the 2021 North Carolina Pickle Festival being virtual, we are pleased with our events,” said Julie Beck, president of the Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce.

“We had 200-plus [people] attend the drive-in movie and donate over 500 canned goods to Make A Difference Food Pantry.”

Canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beck and festival co-chairman Lynn Williams refused to miss a second straight year.

They decided they’d attempt six events that involved pickles, which drive the sleepy town’s economy, and the community. The duo, with the help of Beck’s event planning class at University of Mount Olive, created a pickle eating and pickle recipe contest.

A few runners, including UMO alumni, participated in the annual Cuke Patch 5k in downtown Mount Olive on Saturday morning. Weather conditions were perfect for the racers, who made loops around Westbrook Park and UMO, and ended back up at Ribeye’s Restaurant.

Paige and Kenzie Hinson, from Make A Difference Food Pantry, accepted donations from movie-goers. The non-profit organization benefits senior citizens in Mount Olive and the county, and numerous communities in eastern North Carolina.

“We loved our virtual pickle recipe contest that brought us pickle quesadillas, pickle stuffed chicken and a pickle chocolate cake,” Beck said. “We plan to keep the pickle recipe contest in the future. Our virtual pickle eating contest brought us contestants from Louisiana, New York, South Carolina and North Carolina. Our winner was from North Carolina.”

Beck and Williams also sought online donations for Communities Supporting Schools in Wayne County.

A husband and wife from North Carolina, and a mother and daughter from Florida, found the jar of pickles simultaneously in the pickle treasure hunt. Beck declared both teams winners.

“We are glad that we kept the festival name and brand out there in 2021,” Beck said. “It was a little bittersweet to see a cold and rainy day on what would have been our 35th annual NCPF. We will be back with a live event in 2022 — bigger and better. [It will be] an event that all participants and attendees will relish.”

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