The worst economic downturn in the last 80 years may not be enough to halt this year's Gilbert Days Parade. But it might be enough to make it shorter.
"I'm 95 percent sure we'll all be getting up very early on (November) 14 and having a wonderful parade," chairwoman Michelle Bullard said Friday afternoon while on her way to a local medical practice to seek financial help for the event.
Bullard has been on the hunt for donors ever since the parade was called off when the Gilbert Town Council voted on Aug. 25 against spending up to $100,000 on the police staffing, traffic barricades and other expenses for the parade. It has been held every year since 1978 and draws up to 40,000 spectators to the parade route.
Bullard has roughly $29,000 in hand, and hopes to collect another $9,000 or so by Tuesday, the night the council has called a special meeting to consider approving a shorter parade route that would be covered by the funds raised by Bullard and others with the Gilbert Promotional Corporation, which sponsors the parade and rodeo.
The parade, which celebrates Gilbert's rural roots, now has 21st-century social media on its side with a local software company turning its online skills over to the effort.
Linda Hardwick, corporate communications manager of Gilbert-based Infusionsoft, said her company's staff is demographically ideal for the task.
"Most of our staff is younger than the parade. They're mostly in their 20s and very online-media savvy," she said.
The company created the www.savethegilbertparade.com Web page complete with Paypal account, along with a savetheparade Twitter account and a Facebook group. Hardwick said this should help pull in more small-scale donors, the $1 or $5 gifts from local families to supplement larger corporate donors.
Besides numerous volunteer hours, Infusionsoft donated $1,000 and is a parade division sponsor, Hardwick said. Sixteen more companies committed to help pay for the parade, including four construction companies hit hard by the economic downturn.
Achen-Gardner Engineering, Hunter Contracting Co., Haydon Building Corp. and the Sundt Companies gave a combined $18,000 and will be the parade's title sponsors, after assistant town manager Tami Ryall helped GPC connect with them.
Bullard said Gilbert officials have been helpful in the private-sector drive to reverse their earlier decision. "I couldn't have asked for a nicer Town Council to work with. And they didn't want to cancel the parade, but they were being fiscally responsible," she said. "And you got to love them for that."
Mayor John Lewis said when he and councilmembers Dave Crozier and Jenn Daniels met with Bullard, town staff had already worked up numbers on how much it might cost to put on a shorter parade with some other cost-saving measures. At that point, she had $23,000 in hand, which was about $15,000 short of covering the total cost of the parade.
Lewis said the council is definitely interested in doing what it can to make the parade happen.
"The question of what the town might be able to do is still unknown, but the desire is there," he said.
While Bullard looks for more donors, she's also looking ahead, making parade entry applications available on the GPC's Web site and asking for help to stage the event.
"I need volunteers, because I'm a month behind in planning," she said.