Covering Louisiana

May 24, 2014 12:58 PM by ELIZABETH DEGRIE

People at the heart of Peach fest effort

RUSTON, La. (AP) - The fourth weekend of June each year, downtown Ruston is a lively place as the annual Louisiana Peach Festival kicks off.

For more than 60 years, the festival has boosted the local economy.

But, the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce couldn't pull the event off without the help of approximately 100 volunteers.

For the past several years, Barbara Lewis has been one of them.

Lewis said she has helped out in a variety of ways - helping children catch candy during the parade, running errands and generally just wherever she is needed.

"I really enjoy doing it," Lewis said. "It takes a whole family to make something of this magnitude work."

Lewis said she was drawn to volunteering when an organization she was involved with was selling peach pies during the festival one year.

"It's enjoyable," Lewis said of volunteering. "It's work-oriented, but it's benefiting Ruston. I just have a passion for helping people. A lot of people have been a blessing to me, so if I can give back I like to."

Most of all, Lewis said she enjoys visiting with people she doesn't get to see every day.

"You get to see people you haven't seen since Christmas, but at the Peach Festival you run into people," Lewis said. "It's a social affair as well, and it's put us on the map. We're commemorating peaches, which we're renowned for."

Aaron Paul agreed that the social aspect of the Peach Festival is one of his favorite parts of being a volunteer. For several years, Paul has worked at the front gate near the Ruston Civic Center taking money, selling tickets and more.

"(I was drawn to volunteering) just to help the community and be involved," Paul said. "It's always fun - that's why I keep doing it. It helps the community, and I got raised to give back to your community and help build it up and make it what is."

Paul said while there is definitely work involved, that's not how he would explain it to those considering volunteering.

"Don't look at is as work, look at is as fun," Paul said. "You're going to run into tons of people you know. If you like that kind of thing, you're going to very much enjoy yourself."

Also, Paul said, since the Peach Festival is the parish's biggest tourist event, volunteers can feel good that they've helped their community.

"It's always a very satisfying experience - getting to know people, helping the chamber put on this event and putting Ruston on display for the rest of Louisiana," Paul said. "You're an ambassador. You represent Ruston for that day."

Ivana Flowers, the chamber's events coordinator, said about 100 volunteers are needed to help each year.

"Volunteering begins as early as January," Flowers said.

Volunteers will help in a variety of ways from early stage planning, entrance gate, ticket sales, T-shirt sales, security, T-shirt delivery and pick up, office work, clean up, setup, water delivery and general festival ambassadors.

And they're needed at the admission gates and for ticket sales, she said.

Those who volunteer receive an armband for the day of volunteering, a T-shirt, company publicity/recognition.

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