Loss Of Gilroy Garlic Festival A Financial Success For Youth Bands

By Lorraine Gabbert, San Jose

May 7, 2022

The loss of the Gilroy Garlic Festival ends essential funding for local nonprofits and youth organizations.

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High insurance premiums forced the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association to halt the festival, leaving local bands without the once reliable source of funding and looking for new sources of income.

Since 1979, the annual food festival has raised more than $12 million for local charities and millions more for participating nonprofits, according to the festival association. Schools, churches, service organizations and sports teams relied on these funds to raise awareness and swell budgets.

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Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley told San Jose Spotlight that the Garlic Festival did more than just put Gilroy on the map. Financially, it has benefited the whole community. The Gilroy Rotary Club, which raised money by running the event’s wine pavilion, relied on him for its annual bone marrow drive, she said.

David Cox, executive director of St. Joseph’s Family Center, said that in the early days of the nonprofit, funding for the festival was essential. The center provides food, housing and employment-related services to people in need.

Cox said the loss of dollars isn’t as essential compared to the center’s reliance on leftover food from Gourmet Alley and the demo scene. This pain will be felt because food feeds hundreds of families each year, he said.

“It was a way for us to raise awareness of our mission and services and give back to the community,” he said.

Gilroy’s Lifeline

For over 30 years, the Gilroy Gators swim team has been well represented at the festival, selling iced tea, garlic bread and sausage sandwiches, in addition to cleaning up the park. The swim team earned between $5,000 and $10,000 a year.

Jacquelyn Stevenson, president of the Gilroy Gators Swim swim team, said the money funds pool rental fees, coaches’ salaries and swim scholarships for local families. With the festival over, scholarship cuts are a reality, Stevenson said.

“We have to get creative to make up for this (loss of funding),” Stevenson said.

The festival funded the team’s annual free swim clinic, a manger to bring in new team members and a way for children to learn to swim. The festival also allowed team members to connect beyond the pool, said swim coach Cecelia Rojas.

“We don’t just teach swimming,” Rojas said. “You’re trying to teach these kids to be leaders, to work with each other, to take turns.”

Gilroy Gators swim team head coach Jud Shutts speaks with coach Cecelia Rojas. Working at the Gilroy Garlic Festival earned the team $5,000 to $10,000 a year. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

To make up for lost income, the swim team will volunteer at the Gilroy Rodeo and hold fundraisers.

Gilroy Unified School District spokeswoman Melanie Corona said the festival provided critical funding for home and school clubs, music programs, sports teams and a sense of community for staff. and students. She did not know what loss the district would suffer.

Corona said the school district is grateful for the financial support and community building it has received from the Garlic Festival. She is confident that the residents will step in to support the school in the absence of the festival.

“We are certainly saddened by the association’s decision (to halt the festival),” she said, “but we fully understand that it was certainly not a decision taken lightly.”

Liability fees too high

Gilroy also benefited from the festival, which brought about $50,000 a year to the city’s general fund through hotel taxes, city administrator Jimmy Forbis told San Jose Spotlight.

Kenneth Christopher, executive vice president of Christopher Ranch, said a drop in attendance following a mass shooting at the festival in 2019, compounded by COVID-19 and rising insurance premiums, led to its end. He said the city requiring a $10 million insurance policy was prohibitively expensive.

“They can’t find the courage to think beyond liability and to think beyond prosecution,” he told San Jose Spotlight, referring to ongoing litigation against the city and the organization of the shooting-related festival. “They’re not stepping in and protecting an event that means so much to our hometown.”

Gilroy Garlic Festival Association board member Tom Cline said the association could not claim the $10 million insurance premium needed to run the festival.

“Because we’re in an active trial, it limits us,” he told San Jose Spotlight.

Forbis said the city does not determine the level or cost of insurance. He said if the city did not require the levels of insurance set by the Municipal Pooling Authority, the general fund would be responsible for paying the lawsuits.

In 2019, the insurance pool demanded $6 million in coverage for the Garlic Festival, which cost the association $62,000 in premiums. In 2020, the bounty increased to $98,000, Blankley told San Jose Spotlight. Then this year, the city’s insurer demanded $10 million in coverage, pushing premiums between $150,000 and $200,000, she said.

“On public property, we are required to have insurance based on what our insurance pool authority says we need to be covered,” Blankley said.

The festival association held a drive-in event at a local church last year, which Cline attributed to not being able to pay insurance premiums for the usual festival venue in Christmas Hill Park.

“This year we tried again, to get a venue, and it just didn’t work out,” Cline said, noting that the festival has lost money eight of the last 10 years, or $400,000 in 2018. “Costs have gone up more than we were able to bring in… So many factors come into play. All the parking we had that was near Christmas Hill has all gone because of housing (development).

The association plans to hold smaller community fundraisers this year, including a golf classic, a concert at Clos LaChance Winery and a farm-to-table dinner. But the Gilroy Garlic Festival is still canceled for the foreseeable future.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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