December 2016: The 2016 Christmas parade float that several Tennessee employees built from scratch was a huge success. After taking several years off from the annual float building activity, the activities committee in Tennessee decided it was time to start back up again. With several possible theme ideas swirling, the team decided on Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” Disney movie. They concentrated on the Christmas Town segments of the movie with a working carousel, a polar bear with elves, Zero the dog, and Jack Skellington as the snowman. Several characters from the movie (Jack, Sally, and the Mayor) all rode on the float along with the float team. It was also very well-lit with thousands of LED lights and of course displayed Barrette fencing along both sides.
The team entered five local parades (two at night and three during the day) and was judged in three of those, taking first place in all three! The largest parade, in Morristown, had over 150 entries. The team even braved a complete December downpour for the Bulls Gap parade. It made it all worthwhile to see the children want their picture taken with Jack, Sally and the Mayor and their smiling faces as the float passed by.
The team spent countless hours building the whole float from scratch both at work after hours and at their homes. At every parade, judges and spectators were amazed at the amount of detail and creativity that had gone into the final product.
One night while the team was working on the float, tragedy had stuck in Gatlinburg & Sevier County. Wildfires described by firefighters “like nothing they had ever seen before” broke out in the Chimney Tops and Cobbly Nob area of Gatlinburg. With the area’s extreme drought conditions coupled with hurricane force winds of 90 mph, the fires quickly consumed much of everything in its path. The following week, the team won their 1st first place trophy and immediately decided they wanted to help the people of Gatlinburg by giving a family their winnings. After a few weeks of parades, the team had won first place in every parade they were judged in and had collected $350! And after several calls and texts, they also spoke with a family who had lost everything in the tragedy.
Once a meeting date had been set, the team decided since they would be in the area to meet the family, to volunteer at one of the distribution centers that had been set up to get the items that had been donated to the families affected. The team worked about 5 hours sorting and building hygiene bags for men & women. Later that afternoon, they finally got to meet the family who were staying at a local hotel. Debbie, Mark and Ruth (mother & adult children) lost 3 homes, 2 cars, and all personal belongings in the November 28th fire. The team sat and listened to Debbie describe their escape from the mountain with downed trees and flames behind them. They also met “Mama Ruth” (age 91) who was a joy to encounter even after such a tragedy. They humbly accepted the float winnings and assured the team they would use it in the rebuild process. The team plans on going back for another visit with the family soon.