MANATEE -- To host this Sunday's Annual Community Egg Hunt at G.T. Bray Park takes a small army of volunteers -- 125 in total.
When the iconic hunt began nine years ago, 600 attended so only a handful of volunteers were needed, but attendance mushroomed to 4,000 last year and even more are expected this year, said the Rev. Ancil Abney, lead pastor of the event's sponsor, The Church at Bradenton.
"We actually start recruiting volunteers and planning for this event right after Christmas," Abney said.
Many of the Egg Army volunteers -- who make popcorn and cotton candy, staff the bounce houses and supervise the egg hunts -- have wondrous memories of past Easter egg hunts themselves.
And that's why they try to create magic. This year's ninth annual hunt will be 2 p.m. to 4:40 p.m. Sunday at the G.T. Bray Softball Fields, 5502 33rd Ave. Dr. W., Bradenton. The volunteers hope to create lifelong memories for the children who come out for the hunt, said Egg Army member Kathy Bowers.
"We were raised Christian and my mother, Wilma, always made a cake in the shape of a lamb on Easter morning," said Bowers, whose husband, Richard, joins her in the Egg Army as front-gate checkers. "The cake was to signify Christ."
The lamb cake was all white with coconut, said Bowers, who grew up in a small Ohio town.
"We lived right next door to my grandmother," Bowers continued. "She had 50 grandchildren and 46 of them were my cousins. We each got an Easter egg basket and had to find the eggs in the yard. But sometimes we just threw the hard-boiled eggs at each other."
On Easter morning in Richard Bower's Ohio farm home, the livestock came first and then church, Bowers recalled.
"Mother would always have dinner for us and on the farm we had proper dinner," Bowers said. "We had the whole fried chicken or whatever. The day before we would have colored real hard-boiled eggs. The next day Mother would have them in a basket and hide them in the yard.
"I had a little sneaky attitude, so when Mom was hiding the eggs I would be peaking out the window sometimes," Richard Bowers said.
Sunday's rules this year are first for the children to have fun, second for them to be quick.
"We wanted to see who could get the most eggs in a basket the quickest," said Bowers.
It will cost $2 per child to take part Sunday in egg hunts for all age groups, bounce houses, popcorn, cotton candy, music, clown performances, a meet the Easter Bunny, and more, said the Rev. William Sallee, the church's experiential director.
Eight bicycles will also be given away, Sallee said.
Information: tcabradenton.com or 941-792-3462.