How Many Volunteers It Takes to Make a Parade

20180224 121409 copy
20180224 121409 copy

How Many Volunteers It Takes to Make a Parade

Thoughts by Wayne Hu

Since 1953 the Chinese Chamber of Commerce has sponsored the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade.  It was a Chinatown parade for a small community where most Chinese lived and many worked.  By the 1960s, with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and a partnership with the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Parade grew.  Since the 1970s, it became a San Francisco Bay Area event for everyone, not just Northern California spectators but from around the world.  Even on cold and windy evenings, one million spectators have lined the downtown streets to watch the parade.  And when it has been stormy and rainy, there still have been 250,000 spectators in raincoats and ponchos, sheltering under umbrellas.  With the television broadcast of the parade on KTVU-Channel 2 and KTSF-Channel 26, both live and taped delayed to audiences in the Bay Area, a few major cities in the United States and Asia, the numbers are increased by another million viewers. Considered one of the top 10 parades in the world by the International Festival & Events Association, the parade is one of the few illuminated night parades in North America and the biggest parade celebrating the lunar new year outside of Asia. 

Despite often inclement weather, resources that are buffeted by economic downturns and, yes, a pandemic, the parade has survived largely because of volunteers who show up every year, come rain or stars.

A count – but it is only a guess as there are many more…

Parade Volunteers & Participants
Administrators & Managers50
Parade Marshals & Coordinators150
Bleachers Seats & Security120
Parade Units – Marchers, VIPS, Floats, Bands4,969

Doing the Math

Planning for a parade takes an entire year.  It begins with the marketing and invitations to corporate sponsors for the parade.  A small parade committee develops the parade and marketing programs.  By September, the parade committee grows to 10-15 people who plan, design, promote and market the annual festival and parade.  From September, invitations are sent to interested marching units and by December, the marching units are selected based on their description of the units, costumes, and the presentation in the parade.  In December construction of the floats also begins.  By January or minimally 45 days before parade day, parade volunteers are invited, chosen, and assigned responsibilities.  By parade day 300 volunteers have been recruited to supervise the parade and associated activities.  

Many of the parade marching units are schools from the San Francisco Bay Area, led by teachers and parents volunteering their time and money.  They are invited to the parade but must arrange and do fundraisers to pay for their transportation, food and lodging.  Over the years the school performances and costumes have improved – becoming more colorful, charming and cute. In many cases the students have acquired new skills ranging from stilt walking, tumbling and dancing imitating mice, rabbits, horses and the other lunar animals.  Lots of after school and weekends practice.  

For many years, San Francisco schools did not have marching bands.  Marching bands were recruited from the Bay Area – Alameda, Oakland, San Jose and Santa Cruz.  During the 1960s, high schools from Southern California were invited. Recent parade lineups have had high school bands from not only the Bay Area Cities, but also other California cities and Nevada.  In addition, there are college and university bands and other bands.  A high school band may have 50-100 members, and college and other adult bands could have 200 members.  With 15 bands in the parade, that yields another 750-plus volunteers.

Lions, dragons and Chinese banners are performed or carried by volunteers.  The performers for the Chinese lion and dragon groups are mostly sponsored by Chinese martial arts schools in San Francisco.  Even the San Francisco Police Department has its own lion and dragon group which includes police officers and their families.  The Golden Dragon and it escort lions which are at the end of the parade is carried by volunteers organized by a martial arts studio who invites students, friends and strangers to carry the Golden Dragon for li see (good luck envelopes), lunch and a towel.  A few of the volunteers travel from New York and Texas just be carry the dragon.  The Golden Dragon is carried by a team of 200 who spell each other throughout the parade route.

It takes more than 5,000 volunteers to have a parade.  Most of the volunteers have volunteered for more than 10 years, many for 20 years, and a few more than 30 years; from teenagers to those who remember the first parade.

Thank You to All the Volunteers.