By David Yarger
For 12 years, the Electric Lights Parade in the Town of Niagara has helped reel in the start of the holiday season. Last year's festivities brought out several thousand citizens and hundreds of participants in the parade itself to get everyone in the festive spirit. The same can be expected for year 13.
The parade, organized and presented by the Town of Niagara and the Town of Niagara Business and Professional Association, will roam down Military Road starting at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 4.
Along with the parade, the town is accepting donations for the annual food drive. Town Clerk Sylvia Virtuoso said there is a new location to donate, at the Greater Niagara Federal Credit Union on the corner of Lauer and Military roads.
Virtuoso said the parade covers several subjects.
"The goal of the parade is to kickoff the shopping season, bring people to the business district and showcase the community and all the participants of the parade," Virtuoso said.
Event chairman Gary Strenkoski agreed, saying, "The parade is done before Thanksgiving to get people onto Military Road and start to spike business for the holiday season."
The food drive from the parade has had great success in years past, Strenkoski said. He said the drive is the most important part of the parade to him.
"The food drive is what keeps me going," he said. "It goes to families who need it and it just makes their holiday season a lot better. We've had almost a ton of food donated each year, with one year garnering six tons. Over the years we've donated easily over 10 tons of food and I've always gone out the next day to get the food to the organizations that we donate it to."
Virtuoso agreed saying, "We are grateful to those who donate the food so others can have a happier holiday."
Strenkoski said it's a guarantee there will always be something new each year, from different holiday-themed floats to the music and even the weather.
"There's always new people and new floats. This year there will be different music and forms of entertainment and we've had a good turnout for this year's parade. Our lineup hasn't even been finalized yet and around the end of October and first week in November is when we will start putting together the final roster.
"The weather has been perfect almost every year, other than one. Another reason why the lineup isn't finalized is because some people will wait and see how the weather pans out. With this being a holiday parade, we actually want colder weather and expect it, but the weather has been perfect," he said.
In order for the parade to flow smoothly, Strenkoski credited the Wheatfield Kiwanis Club for the work they do in organizing the floats. Strenkoski said he's had to organize the parade once and it wasn't easy. He said he's not sure where the parade would be without them and couldn't praise them enough for the work they've done, in what Strenkoski called, "organized chaos."
As much as Strenkoski loves the parade, he admitted, he hasn't seen much of it.
"I never really see the parade because I'm usually last in the parade and I'm always greeting people as they head out into the parade. I've seen it on TV and it's a good parade. I'd put it up against some others," he said.
Strenkoski said the parade's major sponsor this year is Allied Waste Industries and along with them, many organizations have donated and helped the parade operate smoothly. He said the parade also uses no taxpayer dollars in the production of the event.
Strenkoski said work doesn't stop even after the conclusion of the parade.
"The day after the parade, me and a group of people meet at the Jetport to get together and clean the road spotless. We pick up debris and garbage that has been sitting for the year. When we leave the road is cleaner than ever," he said.
Strenkoski gave credit to all the volunteers of the parade. He said, "There's a lot of good people that do a lot of good for the parade. It's really a team effort and a bunch of people have come together with a commitment to make the parade an enjoyable time for families."
The Electric Lights Parade has drawn great crowds, including several thousand spectators last year, some even pitching tents on the side of the road. Strenkoski said it's a great event for the town and everyone is welcomed to attend.
Virtuoso recommended parade attendees to, "Arrive before the road closes at 6 p.m., dress warm, keep children away from the road and be courteous to the businesses in the area."
For more information on the 2017 Electric Lights Parade, contact Strenkoski at 716-550-0673 or Virtuoso at 716-297-2150.