SOUTH BERWICK, Maine†ó There was an overwhelming sweet smell of strawberries wafting in the air in South Berwick Friday morning.

The community center was packed with people wearing gloves and aprons as they hulled thousands of bright red berries in preparation for the 44th annual Strawberry Festival.

As Harland Goodwin pierces a berry to remove the hull, he stands with neighbors and his wife Peary. Harland has been involved with the festival since the 1970s when it began.

"Itís a great event where community groups can get the word out about what they do and raise money at the same time,Ē he said. ďIt also gives artists a great opportunity to show off and sell their pieces."

Peary jumps in as she is busy removing the center cores. "Itís just good ole fashion fun. Itís like the way things used to be," she said with a nostalgic pitch. "Itís a place where you can get to know your neighbor."

Karen Eager has been hulling since the 1980s. "I used to bring my baby and sheís now 31,Ē she said. ďI would set her in her carrier in the middle of the table where all the action was."

Pat Laska has been involved since the 80s as well. "Itís a great town event and it builds community spirit," Laska said.

And Florine Jacob remembers: "I used to bring my children, then my grandchildren, now just me." Everyone has moved away but she said she loves being with her neighbors and friends at the festival.

Laska and Jacob both say the same thing when asked what they like best about the annual event: "Eating the strawberry shortcake."

The Central School grounds will feature entertainment, vendors, activities and a tent where strawberry shortcake lovers can have their craving satisfied from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The Strawberry Festival draws thousands of people and is run completely by volunteers. Patricia Gross-Leach has been on the festival committee for 12 years.

"This event is very important and dear to me,Ē she said. ďIíve been coming to it since I was a little kid. When I started to get involved I couldnít believe how much work goes into something behind the scenes, which is for just one day. Itís totally worth it though. And the nonprofit agencies really need the help. All the money made on the festival goes back to the community."

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