Summer seems a long way away in the midst of winter, even in this relatively mild one we’re having (knock on wood). But if you’re a community-minded individual who wants the Independence Day celebration to return to New Paltz this July, it’s time to step forward. The town is no longer involved with the annual display of fireworks at the fairgrounds, so if the event is going to happen in 2020, it will take a volunteer crew of local residents pitching in their time and talents. It won’t take a lot of people; maybe five or so, with fundraising the primary objective.
“Once you have the money, everything else falls into place,” says Dr. Lori Morris, New Paltz-based chiropractor and musician who for many years was a part of the town committee that used to organize the Fourth of July festivities, and who took on organizing the event by herself last year when the town decided it had to permanently end its sponsorship. She’s willing to take it on again this year, she says, but only if a few people pitch in to help. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s not overwhelming with enough people to help. It’s easily accomplishable, but I can’t do it on my own.”
The Independence Day festivities, always held on a day other than the Fourth of July itself because of the prohibitive cost of fireworks on the actual holiday, cost approximately $12,000 to produce. The local ShopRite always donates $3,000 to the effort, and there is still $5,000 in the fund from money raised last year, says Morris. But that obviously still leaves a portion of the costs not covered, so a person capable of handling fundraising is needed.
As a musician, Morris can handle the booking of bands and arrange for the professional audio system along with a person to run it. But additional volunteers are needed for other tasks; someone needs to liaison with the town — contacting police and EMT to make sure they’re on board — and someone else needs to arrange for food trucks and vendors. Another person could handle the children’s activities, making sure there are bouncy houses for the kids and other fun stuff for them to do, and lots of “small” things like putting out garbage cans and picnic tables on the day of the event needs to be done. Parking is usually handled as a volunteer effort by the New Paltz Youth Program.
The fireworks alone cost $7,000-$8,000 on a day other than the Fourth of July. (The plan as of now is to hold the celebration on Friday, July 3 with Sunday, July 5 the rain date.) And speaking of rain, the decision as to whether or not to cancel if it does rain has to be done in the morning; the cost to cancel is $300 if the fireworks haven’t been loaded on the truck at the warehouse yet, or $1,500 if they have, says Morris.
There is the cost of paying for the bouncy houses and children’s activities, and the fee to rent the fairgrounds. This year there will also be the need to pay for insurance; Kathy Preston, assistant to the town supervisor, confirmed to this reporter that although the town covered the insurance for the event in 2019, it was for the last time. The rate for insurance this year would depend on who an organizing committee contracts with, she noted.
Labor costs include those for the police, who are integral to keeping the festivities safe and controlling the traffic flow when it’s over. Last year the Police Benevolent Association donated $3,000 to the event, some of which was used for payments to police, says Morris, but it has yet to be determined whether the PBA will make a donation this year.
Individuals interested in volunteering to help put the event on can make a difference even with small amounts of time, says Morris. People are needed to stand at the entrance gates and accept donations to the free event — “Several thousand people come most years, so if everyone just put $5 in the bucket as they go in, the event could be held every year,” she adds — and those volunteers only need to work for an hour or two. Last year, those donations added up to $1,000.
The event faces a lot of competition that wasn’t there in years past. “Many neighboring municipalities have fireworks now, so there’s a glut of opportunities,” Morris notes. “But New Paltz is a big town, and I’d hate to think we’d have to give up this wonderful community event. It’s more than the fireworks, it’s people coming together to enjoy each other’s company. There are free things for kids, live music, you’re out in nature… it gets people off of their devices and talking to each other. It would be a shame for this to end.”
People interested in volunteering to organize the Independence Day festivities may contact Lori Morris at firstname.lastname@example.org