Early on the first Saturday morning of December, you’ll find Linda Abbott in the parking lot at the Mission Nombre de Dios, the staging area for St. Augustine’s 64th Annual Christmas Parade. She will be happily attending to a myriad of details – as she has for the past 22 years.
“The parade, it’s for the kids,” she says. No matter where she’s lived, children’s well-being inspires her to serve. “One year I was in the fire truck with Santa, he’s at the end, and I saw the kids lined up along the street. They were tired, they’d been waiting. When the parents pointed out Santa was coming, their faces beamed! They can come to the parade and be happy!”
“I’d do it 100 more times!” she says, laughing. Her hazel green eyes sparkle with the thought she would be lucky enough to experience it every year for another century. The children’s joy strengthens her commitment. Linda knows some families are not able to afford extra holiday events and gifts, so the Christmas parade lets people join in the festivities without adding expenses. As director of Linda Abbott Events, a non-profit organization, she excludes vendors in order to lessen the pressure of having to buy trinkets.
Her desire to help children began years ago through involvement with Columbus, Ohio’s Festival of Trees. The funds raised at that annual festival – from selling trees to auctions – went to the children’s hospital. “After the first time, I was there every year,” says Linda.
Linda Abbott began visiting St. Augustine from Columbus when her mother moved here in 1971. Finally, 25 years ago, she relocated. In 1995, Linda worked for the Chamber of Commerce and helped with the Christmas parade. The next year she was put in charge of it. And for 22 years, she has remained the owner, director, and producer of the annual parade. In 2007, she and business partner Scott Adkins formed a nonprofit to help nonprofits. It lived a year, then Scott signed his portion over. Thus in 2009, Linda Abbott Events was born, and it has flourished.
In 2013, the City of St. Augustine set up a fee schedule for events on public property. The parade got a pass for two years, then paid almost $7,000 the next two years. Last year, the parade faced cancelation as it lacked a premier sponsor. The community rallied in support, and Flagler Hospital jumped in with the intention to be an ongoing, premier sponsor. Linda was delighted.
Though some cities have seen a decline in parade attendance, St. Augustine’s remains healthy. “The whole route is packed,” says Linda. City figures show last year that about 10,000 attended. Linda saw the crowds from the fire truck, where she sat next to Santa, played by friend Robin Fleming. “He’s an excellent Santa,” Linda says. “He tries to make eye contact with every child, he’s in the crowd posing for pictures.” Like Linda, he took the role and kept it – it’s a way to give and receive joy during the season. Like Linda and Robin, the 2500 volunteers coming to the staging area that Saturday morning will be doing the same.