CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – The Champaign County Freedom Celebration was back for the first time since 2019. Committee members say volunteers really stepped up this year to help make it happen.

After Monday’s tragedy in Highland Park, the University of Illinois Police released a statement that ensured the safety of all festivities. The celebration continued as planned.

For many Americans, the last two Independence Days looked a lot like: “sitting in my backyard with sprinklers and pretty much trying to get the best out of it,” Hunter Whittington said.

The pandmic caused celebrations across the country to downsize, or be cancelled altogether. But this year…

“This is great – being out here and seeing everybody feels like we’re back in the swing of things again,” Chris Phillips said.

The Champaign County Freedom Celebration returned with its full schedule of activities. But it wasn’t easy for the celebration committee. One member says it takes a small village – roughly a hundred volunteers – to pull off the event. But this year, they’re down on registrations and donations.

“As far as volunteering is concerned, I think that they’re just capitalizing on the time to spend with family. So instead of being here, they might be at home, having a barbecue and inviting a few folks over,” publicity coordinator Marie Polk said.

She said the committee was still happy to put in extra work, because the celebration is about bringing families together – especially during a time when people are divided. And they’re already planning ahead.

“We’re hoping to strategize a little bit more, really get out there for 2023 and see what we can do to both bring up donations and volunteering as well,” Polk said.

But overall, organizers and parade-goers say it was a success – and they’re glad to be back.

The celebrations came to a close with live music and a fireworks display. Organizers say they hope to make the 2023 celebration even better.