2011 Merced Christmas Parade attracts more than 5,000 spectators

It looked as though everyone came out early to celebrate Christmas on Main Street on Saturday.

The 17th annual Hometown Christmas Parade began with more than 5,000 people from all over the county showing up to catch candy canes, wave at the Grinch, dance to music blasting from the low-rider cars and gasp at the vintage cars rumbling by.

Emma Loethen, president of the Merced Active 20-30 Club, a nonprofit that supports underprivileged children in the community, said the parade had more than 74 entries submitted. It's the club's second year coordinating the parade because the city was short of money, she said.

"We have quite a few vendors here in the community and we are supporting the businesses in the community," Loethen said.

Last year, 6,000 spectators lined the parade route.

Jennifer Campodonica from Atwater was at the parade with her daughter Ashlyn, who was decked out in her grandmother's "Princess" hat.

"We've come for the last four to five years," she said from the curb on Main Street.

Vicky Ramirez of Le Grand was there with some friends and said the parade has been getting bigger each year. "It's good for the businesses," she said.

The parade began at G and Main streets and ended at O and Main streets.

During the parade, three children disappeared all at one time but were found right away, according to Lt. Roger McIntyre with the Merced Police Department.

"Officers on the scene were able to locate them and return them to their families," he said late Saturday afternoon.

A happy ending to a happy day.

Reporter Ameera Butt can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or abutt@mercedsunstar.com.