BROOKSVILLE — She's the self-proclaimed "town beggar," having knocked on the doors of organizations and businesses for years, asking for donations to fund youth-related activities.
She has also been a "community hero torchbearer," having carried the 1996 Olympic torch through the streets of Brooksville.
Now, Julia Jinkens gets to hold another title — grand marshal — when she lead's the 35th annual Brooksville Christmas Parade on Saturday.
"If you want to give me an award for begging," Jinkens said with a laugh, "I'll gladly take the glory."
Jinkens said she accepted the parade honor with one condition: that she get to bring 10-year-old Cole Van Hoy along for the ride. Cole, who was diagnosed with high-risk leukemia two years ago, is currently cancer free. He is a student at Brooksville Elementary School, where Jinkens works part time in the cafeteria.
"It's just making my Christmas having him with me," Jinkens said. "He's just a great kid."
This year's parade theme is "Christmas on Main Street." It will start at 10 a.m. at Varsity Drive on the north side of Brooksville and continue on Oakwood Drive to Howell Avenue, then travel south down Howell and S Main Street before turning on to N Broad Street and ending at Bell Avenue. The parade is expected to last until about 12:30 p.m.
About 105 floats and groups will participate, including high school bands, dance studios, Shriners, ROTC groups, churches, schools, local organizations and businesses. There will be concessions and other vendors on hand.
"We have had an equal response for floats as we had last year," said Shirl Hammatt, president of the Kiwanis Club of Brooksville, which sponsors the annual parade. "Also, the program is only four pages smaller than last year," which she sees as a good sign, considering the dismal state of the local economy.
Hammatt also noted that the cover of the program is a winning design drawn by Samantha Crowley of the K-Kids at Eastside Elementary School.
"Something we found as we went out to get ads (for the program) is, there are a bunch of new businesses listed," Hammatt said. "I think that's awesome and really says something for the area."
The parade is headed by Kiwanians Ron Wheeles and Robert Watts. New to the group is project manager Diana Koontz, who Hammatt said has brought a lot of enthusiasm and "fantastic organizational skills" to the Kiwanis' fundraising efforts.
Koontz, who said she got involved with Kiwanis after participating in last year's Christmas parade with the local 4-H, is glad to do her part.
"I signed up to be the pooper scooper after the parade," she said with a laugh. "Anything I can do to help."
Both Koontz and Hammatt stressed that all of the money raised from entry fees and program advertising goes back to the community.
"All fees, 100 percent of it, goes directly back to the kids," Koontz said.
Jinkens said she felt honored to serve as this year's grand marshal because of the efforts of the local Kiwanis Club. "I always went to them first with my fundraisers," she said, "and they never said no to me. They never turned me down."
Also, being able to lead the parade allows Jinkens and young Cole to watch the rest of the parade from the judges stand. "Cole is a bit shy, but he's getting to know Granny now," she said with a chuckle. "We're getting to be good friends."
The parade kicks off a day of free family holiday activities in downtown Brooksville, including:
• A Family Christmas Festival at noon at First Baptist Church, 420 Howell Ave.
• The monthly Bandshell Bash and Brooksville Cruise-In from 1 to 8 p.m. at Hernando Park, 205 E Fort Dade Ave. The concert will include school choirs and refreshments. Christmas karaoke will take place from 6:30 to 8 p.m.