MARYSVILLE — Four-year-old Kendra Gillock ran up to the parade float where Santa Claus sat atop a big red chair, surrounded by Christmas trees made of silver tinsel and presents wrapped in red, white and green paper.
It was a dark and rainy Sunday afternoon in a parking lot at the intersection of First Street and State Avenue. Santa was stationed beneath an oversized red umbrella and wore a clear plastic face shield.
Christmas songs by Mariah Carey played loudly over the speakers, making it hard to hear any conversation between the two.
Santa’s chair was about 6 feet behind a red velvet pedestal, where children and families could sit to take photographs with him — while being careful to keep physical distance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kendra and her mother, Heather Gillock, live in Lyman, a town east of Sedro Woolley in Skagit County. They had stayed with family in Marysville the night before.
“She was super excited to do this,” Heather Gillock said. “She’s got Type 1 diabetes and she won’t keep a mask on, so when I take her out places it’s hard, but I’m thankful these guys are doing it for the kids.”
The event was hosted by Maryfest, the nonprofit in charge of the annual Strawberry Festival and parade.
Families have another chance take pictures with Santa from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. Reservations are required. Call 360-659-7664. Maryfest suggests a donation of $20 for each visit, though the nonprofit won’t turn away those who can’t afford it. Folks have about 20 minutes to take photos using their own cameras.
Money raised goes toward the summer festival and scholarships for high school students. Usually the nonprofit raises money during the week-long strawberry celebration in June that was cancelled this year.
Scholarships go to high schoolers chosen to serve in the festival’s royal court. This year, Grace Kyser, 17, was chosen as a princess and received two scholarships worth $4,000. She’s a senior at Marysville-Getchell High School and a participant in Running Start, a program in which high school students can earn college credits.
Kyser remembers looking up to the Strawberry Festival royalty when she was younger.
“I saw how they were reading to kids and traveling all over Washington,” she said. “I thought that was really cool.”
She hasn’t been able to travel much in her role because of the pandemic, but she still volunteers around town.
She plans to someday earn a master’s degree to become an elementary school teacher. (Her alma mater is Allen Creek Elementary.) She hopes to attend either Central Washington University or the University of Washington.
On Sunday, Kyser helped put together gift bags that each included a T-shirt and enamel Strawberry Festival pins from previous years.
The Christmas event will be one of the only fundraisers for the nonprofit this year, Maryfest President Gail Frost said.
She and others expected the festival to happen until it got close to the date.
“We spent money thinking it was going to go,” she said. “We were working on the float, then all the sudden it just stopped one day, and that was that.”
Even without that income, the nonprofit is not in immediate danger of closing, she said. The Santa event is a way to ease that loss and bring in some revenue this year. Now Frost hopes to continue it every Christmas.
“We’re just trying to bring some cheer to Marysville,” she said.
If you go
Take a photo with Santa from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday or noon to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Maryfest building, 1412 First St. Maryfest requests a $20 donation.
Reservations are required. Call 360-659-7664. Visit marysvillestrawberryfest.com for more information and to donate.