Garden Grove

Celebrating kindness with Andrea and Taylor Perez

TAYLOR PEREZ AND ANDREA PEREZ are ready for this year’s Strawberry Festival. This year’s theme is “Celebrating Kindness.” (OC Tribune photo).

By Jim Tortolano/Orange County Tribune

For about a year, the name of Andrea Palladino Perez, president of the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Association and the festival itself have been pretty much inseparable.

So has the festival and the live representation of the “Strawberry,” Andrea’s daughter Taylor, who dons the costume and reminds people not only of the four-day event but also the good works it does by helping raise money for a wide variety of good causes.

“I’m a volunteer by nature,” said Andrea, 55, whose day job is as a librarian at Garden Park Elementary School in West Garden Grove. “A professional volunteer.” She joined the GGSFA seven years ago and now is in charge of it all.

“It’s a very time-consuming job,” she said. Is this year’s festival going to be as big a hit as last year’s, with record attendance and funds raised? “Yes, I hope so. I’m a little nervous, honestly.”

Understandable, since the festival is one of the largest such events in the Western U.S. and is run entirely by volunteers who – like Andrea – receive no wages or salary for many hours, days and weeks of work.

So why put that much effort into it?

“People love the festival,” she said. “This one is the 63rd year. People bring their families. Grandparents bring their grandchildren. It’s a family-friendly environment, it’s free and it brings the community together.”

Speaking of family, Taylor, 21, is a student at Cal State Fullerton who’s has been wearing the berry costume for years.

“I’m the only one who fits into it,” she said, smiling. Which goes both ways. “I like to make the kids smile. I like to see the excitement on people’s faces. Infants, babies, toddlers, grandparents come up and take photos of them with me. I feel like I’m a celebrity.”

The celebration starts on Friday and continues this Memorial Day weekend through Monday. You can see Andrea and Taylor in the parade on Saturday morning, mom riding in a car and daughter on foot, both doing their berry berry best to help continue a hometown tradition.

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