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Asheville parade kicks off holiday season

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11/19/2012 - Asheville parade kicks off holiday season
by Barbara Blake - Asheville Citizen Times

While throngs of moms and dads waited eagerly for the Kodak moment when their children would dance/tumble/skate/cheer/wave during the Asheville Holiday Parade, volunteers with the city's Folk Heritage Committee were scanning the crowd for kids holding baby dolls or basketballs.

They weren't plotting to snatch the toys out of a bewildered child's hands. Rather, they hoped that some among the thousands would voluntarily offer some trinkets to brighten the lives of children in the Northeast who no longer have homes, much less lavish wish-lists for Christmas.

The idea of collecting toys for the youngest victims of Superstorm Sandy came from Judy Miller, chair of the Folk Heritage Committee, which produces Shindig on the Green and the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival.

The link between preserving Appalachian mountain culture and providing toys for children in New York and New Jersey isn't as tenuous as one might think.

"Any Saturday night at Shindig we see grandparents, moms, dads and children having a joyful time dancing to the bands and clapping for the cloggers," Miller said. "And at the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival, families gather in the performers' rooms to give hugs and high-fives after great stage performances.

"The leap from this focus on family to wanting to bring a measure of joy to New York and New Jersey families affected by this devastating storm was not a great one," she said. "When Americans are hurting, other Americans step up -- it's just what we do."

The city stepped up Saturday with dolls, games, stuffed animals, make-up kits, Mr. Potato Heads, tea sets, sports equipment, craft boxes and other gifts that will surely be welcome in the northern cities where the late October storm flattened entire neighborhoods and left thousands homeless.

Carol Sutton, retired after 33 years as a teacher and now a volunteer tutor at Pisgah Elementary School, went shopping immediately after learning of the toy drive from friends and family members involved with the Folk Heritage Committee.

"This is a group that gives of themselves year-round; they're the kind of people when they see or hear of a need, they're going to go in that direction," Sutton said. "And the first thing I thought was that I want to support them."

Sutton likened her reaction to the storm damage to a trip she once took to out west.

"Oh, my goodness gracious," she said. "I went to the Grand Canyon, and it took my breath away. I brought back a book of photos, but then I realized there's no way you can capture what it actually looks like.

"The storm was the same way," Sutton said. "Anytime I see something of that magnitude ... you can see pictures all day long, but I can't even begin to imagine how severe that devastation is."

As a teacher who loves children, though, she can imagine well enough.

"You think about the people up there just trying to make it from day to day, and all the little children ... then it starts being real personal," Sutton said. "The Folk Heritage Committee also has a heart for children, and this was a wonderful opportunity to help in just a very small way."

Once the toys were by collected by volunteers marching in Shindig's unit, the parade continued with its usual assortment of marching bands, dancers and gymnasts, scout and church groups, big trucks and elaborate floats, horses and llamas, color guards and cheerleaders, the occasional beauty queen and adoptable dogs from the Asheville Humane Society.

Santa Claus, of course, is the perennial crowd favorite, suited up this year in traditional red and white with a cheery smile behind his curly white whiskers.

The mysterious and magical St. Nick, by the way, is apparently an American citizen, if Old Glory flying at the tip of the sleigh in front of the reindeer was any indication.

The drumbeats that signaled the approach of the Hillcrest High Steppin' Majorette and Drum Corps immediately changed the energy of the crowd, which whooped and hollered with appreciation as the young performers strutted their stuff.

A similar reaction came with the arrival of the zany LaZoom bus, its trademark naughty nun waving saucily from the top of the purple party on wheels -- a hard act for the unit that followed: a small band of comparably demure New World Celts.

At the end of the route near Clingman Avenue, the parade participants' reactions were varied as their moments in the spotlight c ame to a close, some expressing relief that the march from South Charlotte Street was over, others not so much.

The Asheville High School marching band, reminiscent of the musicians playing in the dying moments of the Titanic, continued valiantly with their tunes even after running into a dead end in a parking lot on Patton Avenue.

On a float that followed, one of the women standing atop it looked around at the sidewalks void of humanity after being surrounded by cheers and music for nearly two hours.

"Oh, no," she said sadly. "It ends with a whimper."

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