When Phoenix Kawamoto of the New Paltz Office for Community Wellness and Jim Tinger of the New Paltz Youth Program put their heads together a year ago to organize the community’s first Holiday Hoopla Parade, the impetus was to brighten the spirits of residents at a time when many people were feeling unusually stressed by the isolation of the pandemic. The need for that psychic tonic hasn’t entirely gone away, but the second annual Hoopla held this past Sunday didn’t have to be viewed from a distance. In fact, this year’s version was able to culminate in a Winter Carnival at Hasbrouck Park, and seemed a much more participatory event overall.
“I’m so excited and so happy that so many people came out to lift their spirits, get information and be in community, especially in this time,” said Kawamoto, who was dressed in a fuzzy polar bear costume for the occasion. “Anxieties are riding high again. We want people to have a good time, and we want people to know that we are there for them.”
The subtext of this lighthearted event is indeed serious: An explicit part of Holiday Hoopla’s mission is “providing opportunities for community, connection, fun and distribution of resources that individuals and families may find helpful during the challenging season ahead and in the event they find themselves or a loved one facing a variety of challenges.” Whether they actually marched in the parade down Main Street or simply watched it go by and then followed along to the park, attendees found themselves greeted by an array of tables where they could learn more about social and psychological services available locally to support sufferers of the winter blues.
Under the rubric of Thriving Together, the coalition of agencies behind the event – also prominently including the Ulster Prevention Council – distributed a “Community Resource Card” on which Kawamoto listed contact information for dozens of places where people in distress can find help. Whether a person’s challenge is mental illness, substance abuse/addiction, hunger, homelessness, domestic abuse/intimate partner violence, a disability or a family who can’t accept LGBTQ offspring, there’s an agency somewhere in Ulster County poised to lend a hand. This card could be a lifeline, and belongs tucked under a magnet on the refrigerator of someone you know.
Tinger, who was playing Santa for the event, was less eager to break character to talk about it. “My quote is ‘Ho-ho-ho,’” he told Hudson Valley One in between photo ops with kids and families. Like Kawamoto, he was grateful for the unseasonably mild weather on Sunday: 45 degrees and nary a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately, the organizers had to reschedule the parade and carnival when Saturday, the original date, was forecast to be rainy and windy; as a result, the food trucks that were supposed to be at Hasbrouck Park for the afternoon were otherwise engaged. Thus, the Youth Program booth where free bags of popcorn and cups of hot cider, cocoa and coffee were being handed out was the clear hit of the Winter Carnival, with the popcorn line snaking well across the park.
Aside from all the educational offerings, there was live entertainment aplenty. Three bands rode on flatbed trucks in the parade playing holiday songs: the David Chapman Band, the Jim Decker Band and Rivergrass. Jugglers from New Paltz Improv and hula-hoopers from Hoops for Humanity showed off their expertise. Firefighters walking a pair of Dalmatians led off a long line of firetrucks from both Modena and New Paltz, all bedecked with Yuletide decorations, including an inflatable dinosaur wearing a Santa hat. The New Paltz Police Department and Rescue Squad also joined the line of march.
There were several festive floats; a small army of Youth Center kids dressed as elves and handing out candy canes packaged with Community Resource Cards; and, riding in a horsedrawn carriage at the head of the procession, New Paltz’s first-ever parade grand marshals of color: Michael Sobia and Emmanuela DeSanges-Sobia, splendidly decked out as Mr. and Ms. Claus. “The community’s coming together and the community’s opening up,” Emmanuela said later. “Our message is that diversity is what made America.”
Once everyone had arrived at the park, the entertainment focus turned to a concert of Christmas and Hanukkah music by the combined bands of the New Paltz Middle School and High School. Their long set was followed by dance and gymnastics routines from students of Gina Marie’z Academy of Performing Arts in Highland. DJ Jay Smooth served as emcee.
Kids lined up to have their faces painted or jump in the bouncy castle, all free of charge. Off to one side, Dr. Willie K. Yee did magic tricks for the little ones. At one table, Amy Frisch, whose psychotherapy practice is called It’s a Girl Thing, was inviting passersby to “write an anonymous message of gratitude to someone in your community” on a leaf-shaped cutout. “They will be displayed throughout our town,” Frisch explained.
To get your own copy of the Community Resource Card, learn more about the various services available for people in crisis or volunteer to work on future Office for Community Wellness events (such as New Paltz Eve, coming up at the end of this month), contact Phoenix Kawamoto at (845) 256-5014 or (845) 275-5413 or visit www.npcommunitywellness.org.