Cherry Blossom Festival helps keep nonprofits in the pink

Cherry Blossom Festival helps keep nonprofits in the pink

lfabian@macon.comMarch 16, 2013 

More than cherry trees have taken root since the Cherry Blossom Festival launched 30 years ago.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars have poured into Middle Georgia charities through sanctioned events that serve as fundraisers.

The Macon-Bibb County Fire Department alone has raised nearly a half-million dollars for the American Cancer Society by flipping pink pancakes and sausage Saturday mornings at Central City Park.

The tradition began about 29 years ago when then-Fire Chief Jim Hinson saw a prototype for rotating grills.

The firefighters built a pair of cookers and began serving up their signature $5 breakfasts to benefit the chief’s favorite charity -- long before Hinson was diagnosed with the cancer that took his life in 2000.

Current Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said the morning meal is a perfect opportunity for firefighters to mingle as people join together under the big tent at the park.

“It’s a great time to get out as the seasons are changing, and it’s just a great time for our community,” Riggins said. “And we have the best-tasting sausage with just a little touch of spice to it, to let you know the firefighters did it. Turning up the heat.”

This year’s festival includes nearly two dozen sanctioned events that are run by other organizations but are included in festival promotions in exchange for a fee and a percentage of the proceeds.

For Wesley Glen Ministries CEO Billy Oliver, publicity from its sanctioned Cherry Blossom Road Race on March 23 is as important as the money raised for the Methodist Church organization that cares for adults with developmental disabilities.

“It has a tremendous impact with regard to Wesley Glen,” Oliver said. “It gives us the opportunity to tell the story and share the story of Wesley Glen.”

Esme’s Heart, formerly Twilight Moms, is in its third year of organizing the race and helping the Wesley Glen residents make awards for division winners.

Last month, with big smiles on their faces, the men and women who live in Wesley Glen housing pressed down on ceramic tiles with hands covered in brown paint. Their handprints became trunks and branches for blooming cherry trees the winners take home as unique prizes.

“I think the award winners know this is very personal,” Oliver said.

The $20 fee to enter the 5K and 10K races from Howard Middle School through the Cherry Blossom Trail, plus the $12 for the 1-mile fun run, will fund programs and help with housing costs for disabled adults.

FURever Friends Humane Society presents the Pet Fashion Show Saturday at 1 p.m. at Central City Park.

“It gets our name out there and rescue groups, in general, because we let them walk their animals out,” said Stephanie Parker, vice president of animal rescue FURever Friends that fosters and tries to find homes for unwanted animals from Jones County.

The $5 entry fee for costumed animals funds veterinary care and other expenses for the organization that returns March 23 for Paws in the Park. Animal rescue groups provide agility training and obedience classes from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. on the closing weekend.

The Ronald McDonald House’s truck pull is a festival-sanctioned event for the first time this year.

It moved from the fall to the spring three years ago to take advantage of Cherry Blossom visitors and the built-in audience downtown.

“I’m expecting to have a larger audience than we’ve had in the past,” said Julie Wilkerson, development director for the organization that is raising $5.5 million for its second Ronald McDonald House to provide temporary housing for families of hospitalized children.

Those arriving Saturday to Cherry Street Plaza at 10 a.m. to see teams of 15 pulling a 60,000 pound truck can stay for the bed race and high heel race.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s executive director in Macon, Emily Bowden, said the race up Cherry Street in at least 2-inch heels is perfect for cherry blossom time.

“We’re all about pink,” said Bowden. “It’s a great fit to be downtown.”

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert McMahon secured on the Internet his size-17 heels for last year’s race, when he was still commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center.

This year, he’s kicking up his fundraising.

“Gosh, I’ve had so much fun, why don’t I invite 50 of my closest friends?” McMahon thought. “I want to show that the men of Middle Georgia care about the women in their lives and recognize the threat this disease has on their lives, and to make a difference.”

Either his buddies man up and step into the stilettos, or they’ll have to pony up $100 to save face.

McMahon, who currently heads the 21st Century Partnership, hopes to present a check for at least $5,000 at Saturday’s 2 p.m. race.

“I’m delighted to be part of the festival drawing folks in to appreciate the beauty of Middle Georgia,” he said.

The Friends of the Library’s Old Book Sale predates the festival by about 14 years, but it shifted from February last year to take advantage of Cherry Blossom tourists.

Festival marketing, media and executive assistant director Lydia Moss said the festival hopes to have 30 sanctioned events next year.

“There are a lost of charitable organizations that take opportunity of the festival to raise money,” Moss said.

To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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