Daffodil Festival volunteers at heart of community floats

Saturday’s big parade in 4 cities dependent on volunteers who hunt for money, other helpers

Staff writerApril 3, 2014 

Julie Door of Puyallup lugs around a big binder full of information about her city’s annual community float, one of 34 floats lining up for Saturday’s annual Daffodil Parade.

Residents and local leaders like her have volunteered time and money to make sure this year’s float is a success. Without them, Puyallup would be left without its traditional parade entry and students from the three Puyallup high schools would be disqualified from participating as Daffodil royalty.

Door is learning about the float-building process as she goes. She hopes her binder — a collection of plans patched together over several weeks — will ensure others won’t have to do the same in the future.

“It’s a mystery trying to piece it together when you’ve never done it,” said Door, a member of the City Council.

Other Pierce County communities also struggle to meet the responsibility. One volunteer in Tacoma said no group is in charge of putting the city’s float together each year, so “it’s been a bit of a scramble” to plan.

In Puyallup, Door said last-minute float planning seemed to be the norm in recent years.

Longtime volunteer leader Terry Asbjornsen ended his 35-year commitment about three years ago.

Asbjornsen said volunteers traveled with it from Canada to Montana and as far south as San Diego.

“We took it to another level than what it had ever been before,” he said Thursday. “We are pleased there are those who are stepping forward and keeping it going for the Daffodil Festival.”

It hasn’t been easy. With no official successor to Asbjornsen, volunteers have kicked around the responsibility.

This year, financial struggles added to the burden.

In the past, Puyallup used lodging tax revenue to pay for the community float. But a new state law tightened restrictions on those funds, and the City Council voted to stop spending it on the float.

City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto said funding “was not the sole issue.”

“It was really having somebody take the lead,” he said.

“It’s the goodness of people’s hearts that makes it happen” every year, Yamamoto said.

As a liaison between the Main Street Association and the City Council, Door took the reigns this year and sought donations.

The effort has raised about $4,480 so far. A patchwork of donations poured in from state representatives, council members, community leaders and residents, while the Ram Restaurant & Brewery offered discount cards to sell. The Puyallup School District donated $1,000.

Costs for floats vary widely. Door said she’s heard estimates from $25 to $5,000.

“We’re trying to make do with what we can come up with,” she said.

The daffodils alone cost $90 per thousand, Door said; Puyallup’s float will have 6,000 daffodils, which exceeds the festival’s minimum requirement of 2,000.

Steve James, executive director of the Daffodil Festival, said the organization doesn’t spend $5,000 on its float. But he acknowledged storage costs could be expensive and that some communities dedicate more funds than others.

“Not all floats are equal,” he said. “We’re not judging that. We just want participation.”

Door and fellow City Council member John Hopkins have been building Puyallup’s float for more than a month. Friends, family and community volunteers have helped.

It was constructed using the bare-bones frame of a car and other recycled materials from past parade floats.

“It’s been a full-time project,” Door said.

Despite the outpouring of support, Door knew the random and uncertain process of the past wasn’t sustainable over the long run.

Then came the binder.

She collected information to pass along to future organizers. She hopes to implement a consistent process that guarantees leadership and fundraising and avoids the annual “last-minute crisis.”

Details have yet to be ironed out, but the Puyallup School District has expressed interest in offering students community service hours to work on the float, Door said.

She said it should involve broad community support.

James echoed those remarks, adding that the floats are the heart of the parade.

“There’s a sense of pride to it,” he said. “If it’s done right, it’s a fun endeavor.”

In Tacoma, volunteers are also hoping to reduce disorganization in the future.

Kati Boe, an administrative assistant with the Tacoma School District’s student life office, is a volunteer with the community float effort.

“We weren’t expecting (the float) to be put in our laps,” Boe said of the student life office. “We knew about it, but we weren’t prepared to be responsible for it.

“One of our goals is to meet and think of ways that we can generate funds and find a way to build the float that involves more of the community,” she added.

Kari Plog: 253-597-8682

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