COURT HOUSE - Year after year, the community members of Cape May County show their support for the Coast Guard.
They pick up the bill for recruits in line at Coffee Tyme, as a “thank you” for their service. They attend the Coast Guard Community Festival, hosted by the Cape May County Coast Guard Community Foundation each May, to further connect with the Coast Guard personnel and their families.
They host recruits during the holidays when they are away from their families at basic training, as part of Operation Fireside, but things look a little different in 2020.
Although the community members of Cape May County have always supported, welcomed, and honored Coast Guard families, the connection between the community and the Coast Guard strengthens each year.
When the county was officially designated a Coast Guard Community, in 2015, signs were placed at the entrances into each municipality to make visitors aware that we are “A Proud Coast Guard Community.”
With this new designation came the annual event, the Coast Guard Community Festival, to explain to visitors the importance of Coast Guard missions, promoting the Coast Guard cause.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was canceled earlier this year, but that didn't stop the community from supporting the Coast Guard during this difficult time.
CG Community Festival Cancellation
After months of planning by the Coast Guard Community Foundation, local business partners, and community volunteers, the annual highly anticipated festival was canceled due to COVID-19.
The festival is the foundation’s premier program, created, in 2015, to celebrate the designation of Cape May County as a proud Coast Guard Community. What started as a single day of events soon evolved into a weeklong celebration, until this year.
“The annual Coast Guard Community Festival is a joyous celebration of Cape May County’s designation as a Coast Guard Community, however, even more so, it’s a celebration of the enduring relationship between Coast Guard members and their families and the people of Cape May County,” said Will Morey, chairman, Cape May County Coast Guard Community Foundation, and Cape May County freeholder. “The final planning touches for this year’s festival were underway when the decision was made to cancel this year’s event in response to the COVID-19 guidelines.”
Deanna Brown, owner of Antoinette’s Apartments and Suites, a sponsor for the festival, and a member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, was disappointed the festival was canceled but is looking forward to next year.
“It’s a wonderful event. Visitors can take a tour of the base and see the Coast Guard Memorial, which normally isn’t open to the public, and learn more about the base,” said Brown. “This was the first year I got involved, and we all do whatever it takes to plan the festival. It’s a great way to help, not only the organization but the community as well.”
This was the first year since 2015 that the festival did not take place, but plans for next year are already in place. Coast Guard Community Week is expected to take place from April 24-May 1, 2021, depending on the guidelines in place and the safety of community members.
“Ultimately, our mission is one of support and relationship building, so while the festival is paused, our mission is not, and we will endeavor all the more to develop alternate ways to connect Coast Guard members and their families with our community through new programs and events suitable for the current environment,” said Morey.
Community Support During the Pandemic
For several weeks this spring, the newest enlisted members of the Coast Guard graduated with no loved ones in attendance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through the efforts of the Cape May County Coast Guard Community Foundation, Cape May County residents stepped in so the new coasties’ accomplishments did not go unnoticed.
Community members safely lined the streets after the graduations and offered congratulations, flag-waving, and clapping as the buses departed the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May to the frontlines of the U.S. Coast Guard.
“The COVID pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of our lives, throughout Cape May County and in the Coast Guard. The one impressive thing that hasn’t changed is the support our Cape May County citizens have for the Coast Guard, our families, and our recruits,” said Capt. Kathy Felger, commanding officer, Coast Guard Training Center Cape May.
“Normally this time of year, proud residents and business owners would give their friendly support, or a free cup of coffee, to our recruits as they enjoyed their one off-base liberty in Cape May or Wildwood. Instead, since March and even in cold and rainy weather, the local community has turned their support into a heartwarming send-off to support our new graduates each week, as they leave the base headed for the fleet,” she continued.
This isn’t the first time the community has stepped in to show the Coast Guard support during difficult times. During the government shutdown, which prevented Coast Guard members from being paid for 35 days from December 2018 into January 2019, the Cape May County community rallied around its military counterparts.
Donations from residents overflowed the food pantry run by the Jersey Cape Military Spouses Club. Crest Savings Bank launched a loan program to support local Coast Guard personnel affected by the shutdown.
Local businesses provided $250,000 in collateral for potential loans. Individual businesses offered free and discounted products and services to Coast Guard families affected by the shutdown.
In times of uncertainty, the community always comes together to support the Coast Guard members and their families to further strengthen the relationship between Cape May County and the Coast Guard community.
“Pandemic, or not, Cape May County continues to graciously support their Coast Guard, its mission and its people,” said Felger. “Cape May County truly is the Coast Guard’s hometown.”