Led by a group of marching flag twirlers and "Giant Orange Man" on stilts, the 34th annual Santa Paula Citrus Festival took over city streets Saturday morning with its first ever "push 'em-pull 'em parade."
A few hundred citrus lovers lined Main Street to watch the parade that featured youngsters of all ages on bikes, scooters, skates and anyone else who wanted to join in the fun.
"It was great," said Stephanie Navarro, 12, who marched with the flag twirling group from Isbell School. "It was fun."
A month of twirling practice and two days of marching drills led up to Saturday's event. Although the dozen or so flag twirlers have performed in front of groups before, this was their first parade.
"It was embarrassing," said Courtney Foley, 12. "If you mess up, you feel like everyone is going to laugh at you," added Nadia Estrada, 12.
The parade, a new addition to the festival, kicked off at Ebell Park about 10 a.m. and wound its way to Veterans Memorial Park, the festival site. The parade was intended to get more people from the community involved in the three-day event, said Pam Colvard, events coordinator.
This year's festival includes food booths, games and carnival rides with names like Flame Thrower and Cliff Hanger.
The Kiwanis Club, sponsor of the festival, receives a portion of the proceeds, which are distributed to community groups, Colvard said. Last year's festival raised about $12,000 for the club.
"The community needs this kind of celebration. It's a lot of work, but it's a good thing for the community."
The festival, which continues today from noon to 9 p.m., celebrates the area's most popular crops--oranges, lemons and avocados, Colvard said. And, yes, organizers know avocados aren't citrus products, but they need celebrating too, she said. The 20 vendors at the event sold everything from tamales to strawberries to pina colada smoothies, while only a few offered any actual citrus products. "That's one of the goals that we're working on," Colvard said.
First-time visitors took a moment to cool off in the shade and enjoy the intimacy of the small town. "Everybody seems to know each other," said Joseph Lopez of Oxnard.
Colvard said smaller communities like Santa Paula need special events to get people to visit.
"They're like a hidden jewel that people don't realize is here," she said.