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Before siting down and testing the limits of their elastic waistlines this Turkey Day, throngs of people jump-started the celebration with the 88th edition of America's Thanksgiving Parade.

Parade-watchers lined Woodward Avenue from Kirby to Congress for this year's event, which offered a bevy of colorful floats, giant heads, celebrities and, yep, Santa Claus.

Parade co-grand marshals were American Ice Dancing Olympic Gold Medalists and Michigan natives Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The parade was presented by Art Van furniture.

Andrew Gyorkos drove up from Kalamazoo to visit his parents here in Metro Detroit, and brought his own kids to the parade, along with friends from the Messina family of Fenton.

Gyorkos, who works in real estate and construction, improved on the Detroit tradition of hauling stepladders and boards to serve as make-shift viewing platforms for the parade. He substituted a small section of wheeled scaffolding, which also served as a convenient way to transport his daughters, Amya and Annabelle, along with Liam Messina, over to Campus Martius from the Anchor Bar on Fort Street.

"When our parents brought us down here, it was all ladders along Woodward," Gyorkos said.

Bret Peele was a crowd standout as he waited for the parade to make its way past the Compuware headquarters at One Campus Martius.

Peele, a Whitmore Lake resident, was dressed from head to toe in a lion costume. He also sported a Detroit Lions jacket.

"I wear it every Lions home game," said Peele, a season ticket holder. "This will be my eighth Thanksgiving game at Ford Field.

Chris and Genie Sanchez and their 13-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter, and two-and-a-half-year-old St. Bernard/bullmastiff have been bringing the kids to the parade since they were babies.

The Macomb Township resident said enjoying the parade is a family tradition. Afterward, the family planned on heading to Greektown's PizzaPapalis and watching the Lions.

While construction of the M-1 Rail streetcar reduced seating by about 20 percent, the parade followed its usual route from the Detroit Institute of Arts to just south of Campus Martius.

"We are so excited because we have worked for two years with M-1 Rail and the whole team," Tony Michaels, president and CEO of the Parade Company that creates the annual spectacle. "The route is fabulous ... it highlights the progress in Detroit."

Michelle Levin, a friend of the lion-costumed Peele, said she braved traffic from West Bloomfield along with the cold temperatures to enjoy what the city has to offer, saying, "The excitement is down here in the D."

Aljaroe Thomas, his wife and children age five and nine months hit downtown at 8 a.m. to watch the parade.

"This is my first time down here in the cold, freezing, because we want to see our kids smile," said Thomas of Detroit.

While he was happy that his kids would experience the parade he was unhappy with the price of parking. Thomas said he found a spot but did see parking lots charging up to $50.

Also cashing in were businesses that were open during the Turkey Trot and the parade. The Potbelly Sandwich Shop saw a steady stream of folks while Starbucks had more than 20 people in line just after 8:30 a.m.

The Compuware headquarters building on Campus Martius was hopping with activity, too. Inside the Hard Rock Cafe was serving customers and Tim Hortons' staff worked to whittle down a line that snaked out the door.

Parade fans were treated to four new floats crafted by the artists, carpenters and craftsmen of the Parade Company. That included Lear Corp.'s "Connecting the Spirit of Detroit to the World," Art Van's "Motown Museum," UHY LLP's "Distinguished Clown Corps" and the Skillman Foundation's "Children's Pet Cuddle & Care Club."

Parade favorites, such as the Distinguished Clown Corps returned. For 31 years, this group of more than 180 corporate and community leaders contributed to the nonprofit Parade Company for the opportunity to trade their business suits for clown suits.

And the world's largest and expanding collection of nearly 300 papier-mâché heads, the Big Head Corps, livened things up. These colorful artifacts were acquired from artists in Viareggio, Italy with some dating back to the 1940s.

Before the parade was the event that the fleet-footed look forward to each Thanksgiving, the 10K Fifth Third Turkey Trot, which kicked-off on Woodward Avenue near Kirby at 7:30 a.m. Thousands of runners raced through the streets, many in holiday costumes.

The avenues and boulevards were jam-packed with football fans as the Lions face the Chicago Bears at Ford Field. Kick-off was 12:30 p.m.

While it was a day of celebration and fun in Detroit, there were places serving meals to those in need.

Cass Community United Methodist Church, 3901 Cass Ave., served lunch at noon. And Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Conner Kitchen served meals in the morning and afternoon.

Rev. Faith Fowler said on Thursday that church volunteers expected to serve more than 200 people. Fowler said 175 would be treated to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings and dessert.

While it is wonderful to see the outpouring of volunteers and donations during the holidays, Fowler said the need is year-round.

"Folks are just as hungry before Thanksgiving as they are after," said Fowler. "People need help everyday."

UWatson@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2613

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