GREENFIELD — At 7:45 the morning of the Riley Festival parade, A.J. Strahm crept into his parents’ bedroom, one question on his mind: Is it time yet?
The 4-year-old Greenfield boy and his family joined hundreds who braved brisk winds and a steady fall drizzle to line the parade route Saturday morning to be part of one of the Riley Festival’s biggest events.
Undeterred by the chill, A.J. beamed, clutching a plastic bag and awaited the first wave of sweets.
Earlier that morning, when A.J. woke his parents hours before the event was to start, Phil and Michelle Strahm debated staying in. But they just couldn’t break tradition.
“There’s umbrellas and coats and blankets and hot chocolate — make it work,” Michelle Strahm said.
Each year, the parade gives area businesses, organizations, political hopefuls and more a chance to meet with community members, share their missions and participate in a Greenfield tradition.
Among those seeking to get the word out was Kelly Buzan, who represented the Hancock County Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, which seeks to raise awareness of abuse and provide resources to victims.
October is well known as breast cancer awareness month, but Buzan pointed out there are “more things than pink” that deserve county residents’ attention. October also is used to highlight domestic violence.
Buzan and her group wore matching purple shirts and carried signs bearing the phrase, “No more,” a testament to the organization’s goal to bring an end to domestic violence.
Stacy Yocum came to represent the Madison Hancock Down Syndrome Playgroup, which brings together children with Down syndrome and their families for a chance to network and spend time together. She saw the parade as an opportunity to introduce the group to the community.
Having launched a little more than a year ago, the group is still fairly new. Yocum plans to make participating in the parade an annual activity for the group.
“Most of our kids go to the local school districts. We want to support inclusion for kids with Down syndrome,” she said. “This gets them in the public eye so people realize they’re just like everyone else.”
Kevin Johnson and his son, Shane, 6, were first-time parade participants Saturday as they represented Edelweiss Equine-Assisted Therapy Center and rode on its float.
Johnson said he and Shane enjoy riding horses at Edelweiss — a local nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people with special needs by providing therapeutic horseback-riding to improve coordination and assist recovery — and they wanted to support the organization.
“They run a great program that does a great job of meeting all the needs of all of the participants,” he said.
This marked the first year Edelweiss has invited its students to ride on the float, said Cara Pfaff, executive director of the organization. This year, organizers wanted to focus on the riders.
It’s important for the community to know about the group and what it does, Pfaff said, and participating in the parade each year gives organizers an opportunity to spread the word about the group’s efforts, especially because it relies on volunteers and donations to keep going.
The same sentiments ring true for Greenfield’s Relay for Life organization, which holds its event in early summer but is active all year. About 20 volunteers walked in the parade to promote the organization’s mission — to celebrate cancer survivors and remember those who have lost their battles.
“Cancer can strike at any time, so we try to let people know we’re here for them,” said Jeremy Brown, a Relay for Life representative.
And the cold and rain can’t keep Relay for Life volunteers away, Brown said. After participating in the parade for many years, they’re used to poor weather.
“Rain, sleet or snow, … it’s Riley days,” he said. “I can’t remember a year when I didn’t need a coat. It won’t keep us away.”