PALMETTO -- Whether protecting, serving, healing, entertaining or educating children, there were multiple schools and organizations represented at the annual De Soto Children's Parade and Party in the Park in Palmetto on Friday.
Thousands of spectators lined 10th Avenue West to view a somewhat unique event that is devoted strictly to children. However, it is the parents who wrangle the kids, chairs, snacks and blankets while giving up hours of their day to secure a prime viewing spot.
Tracy Carpenter, of Bradenton, was one of those moms who arrived early near the main pavilion that oversees 10th Avenue West where Bay News 9's Summer Smith set up as host of this year's parade. In tow, were Carpenter's 5- and 3-year old daughters, who had all come to see the parade for the first time.
"I was enrolling my oldest daughter in Palma Sola Elementary on Thursday and we saw them putting the float together," said Carpenter. "My daughter spotted it first and got pretty excited about it so we thought we'd come see it in the parade."
Ava Carpenter, 5, who spotted the colorful Palma Sola float, said she was looking forward to the parade, but couldn't wait to get over to the bounce house in Sutton Park where the Party in the Park activities were all set to begin.
Rebecca Durham, also from Bradenton, was another early arrival with her 7-year-old daughter Madison. It was a mother-daughter day for the third straight year for the pair. Mom said she believed Madison was most excited to see the colorful floats, but Madison disagreed, saying she was all about the beads and candy that parade participants were throwing to the crowd.
The Hernando De Soto Historical Society puts on the annual parade, along with several other events throughout the spring and summer months to raise money for area charities. Erik Marshall, from the society, said the group has distributed about $80,000 thus far to local charities, which wouldn't be possible without the group's 200 members.
"This event and others can only get bigger and better because of our sponsors and volunteers," said Marshall.
Marshall said the children's parade is a great opportunity to expose kids to the various agencies that work to serve and educate the community's youth.
"That's what it's really all about," he said. "We want the kids to have a great time, see how many people care about them and raise money for charity."
While the majority of families came early for prime seating spots, there were also plenty of last-minute arrivals who filled in the shrinking number of open spaces along the parade route.
Kate Cucci arrived with her four children ranging in ages of 9 years old to 4 months just moments before the parade arrived.
Being a mother of four kids has honed her multi-tasking skills. She quickly spread out a Disney princess blanket for her three daughters while holding tight to her 4-month-old son, who is "God willing, the last of my children," she said out of breath, but smiling widely as her three daughters closed in tight around her in a protective semi circle due to the strange man with a note pad asking her questions.
Cucci is a veteran parade-goer and not just with her own children.
"I grew up in Bradenton and I actually used to participate in this parade as a child," she said. "The last two years, my daughter has been it, but this year she gets to be a spectator."
Cucci's oldest, Julianna, 9, said it used to be a lot of work getting her school's float ready for the parade, but she always enjoyed being in it.
As her girls scrambled for candy and beads, Kate Cucci had a moment to stretch her legs. She placed her son on her lap and summed up what the annual parade is all about.
"This an annual Easter weekend tradition for us," she said. "It's such a great opportunity to spend some time together as a family on such a holy day. It's just something really special."
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041