Many of the veterans who participate each year in the Tribute to Heroes Parade in Lakewood Ranch are seniors who represent the sacrifice made during the Vietnam and Korean wars and even during World War II.
That was a problem Lakewood Ranch Community Activities Director Keith Pandeloglou, the parade organizer, couldn't overcome when it came time to decide whether the Tribute to Heroes Parade, scheduled for May 24 at Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, should be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trying to provide social distancing space for thousands of spectators was going to be an overwhelming task, but above all, Pandeloglou wasn't about to put the veterans at risk.
"A good portion of the people in the parade are those who are the most vulnerable," Pandeloglou said when announcing May 4 that the parade had been cancelled. "Many of our participants are between 60 and 65. It isn't a parade without the participants."
It was the second time in three years the parade had been cancelled. In 2018, the parade was cancelled due to weather concerns.
Pandeloglou said it was fortunate the parade committee had some lead time to make its decision.
"We never even opened registration," he said about collecting entry fees.
He said while most of the items needed to run the parade, such as event insurance, tents, tables and equipment, had been acquired or ordered, all the funds associated with those costs have been refunded.
"We have been able to save those costs, and have been able to redirect them," Pandeloglou said.
Pandeloglou used some of the parade funds for Lakewood Ranch Community Activities to host a virtual Cinco de Mayo celebration May 5. Part of that cost went toward a chef who demonstrated how to make some Cinco de Mayo favorites along with paying for a band.
Pandeloglou also announced May 4 that Lakewood Ranch Community Activities would host a tribute event on Memorial Day. Residents can send Pandeloglou a photo or video giving their thanks that will be used as part of the tribute to fallen heroes.
He said residents are being asked to stand in front their home at 3 p.m. to participate in The National Moment of Remembrance, which asks Americans to pause for one minute to remember those who have died in military service.
Lakewood Ranch Community Activities will then ask community residents to go to its Facebook Page (facebook.com/LWRCommunityActivities) for the Pledge of Allegiance and a virtual parade.
Pandeloglou asks the community to submit heroes nominations and for every submission, Lakewood Ranch Community Activities will make a donation to VFW Post 12055 for its scholarship program benefitting students at area high schools who participate in the Junior Reserved Officer Training programs.
One of Pandeloglou's concerns about cancelling the Tribute to Heroes Parade is that it funds the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 12055's scholarship program. He said the virtual event should raise enough money for the VFW to continue its work.
"As Commander of Post 12055, and on behalf of our members, it is our privilege to participate in this year's remembrance of those service members whom we have lost in the fight for our nation's causes,” said Graham Ellis, a retired Navy veteran, in a release. “They served with pride, not only in themselves, but in their services and their nation. As we follow in their footsteps, we look forward to assisting local veterans in need and supporting the schools and students in the Lakewood Ranch area.”
Those who want to participate in the virtual event can get information, submit entries or make contributions via e-mail to [email protected] or at LWRTributetoHeroes.org.
Eventually, Pandeloglou said the virtual event might produce some ideas that will be incorporated into next year's Tribute to Heroes Parade.