Lights lend hope to charities, honor Petit family

A "hope" sign and a few of the luminaries that lined a mile-long stretch of Route 10 in Cheshire Saturday evening.

Posted: Saturday, November 10, 2012 8:56 pm
Laurie Rich Salerno

This is the church in which the Petit family was active, before three of them were killed in a 2007 home invasion. And though the lighting event was created eight years ago in one neighborhood to help various charities, it has now expanded and become identified with the Petit family. A portion of the proceeds go to the family’s foundation.

“That’s why we continue to do it — to remember the family,” said Kim Erickson, who organized the church’s effort this year. She was standing in the middle of a large heart with a cross in it formed by luminaries on the green in front of the church on Academy Road after sunset Saturday, helping other parishioners light some of the more than 1,000 candles on the property. Volunteers said the day brought the best weather the event has ever seen.

The church is not far from the mile-long stretch of Route 10 that on Saturday night was lined with luminaries, flickering candles in paper bags, lighting the way for a caravan of cars driving slowly to take in the spectacle.

This year, about 200 volunteers spent the afternoon setting up and lighting more than 13,000 candles residents and others had purchased for a $10 or $12 donation each, according to Don Walsh, who created the event with his wife Jennifer and runs it each year. The event started at noon at Cheshire High School with entertainment, refreshments and luminary sales, and the official kick-off started at 2 p.m. Candles, most placed earlier in the day, were nearly all lit between 4 and 5 p.m.

This year Lights of Hope donated $11,000 each to the Cheshire Community Food Pantry, Cheshire Youth and Social Services and the Petit Family Foundation, which acts as a grant maker for various local and national organizations as well as academic awards in the memory of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and Hayley and Michaela Petit.

Lights of Hope also awarded its yearly $2,500 scholarship to Michael Thomas, who was raised in Cheshire and is attending Fairfield University. Thomas is an Eagle Scout who volunteered with many local organizations, such as Read to Tots, Relay for Life and the Cheshire Volunteer Department, according to a biography from Lights of Hope. His Eagle Scout project was a memorial garden for Nick LaTorraca at St. Bridget School, who died of cancer.

“He went above and beyond what most people do,” Walsh said. “He’s a great kid.”

Overall, Walsh said, he was pleased with the turnout this year.

“More young people participated in this year than ever before,” Walsh said, “That’s what we’re shooting for.”

Evan Cohen, who was surrounded by children helping to light the candles on the front of Temple Beth David on Route 10, said the synagogue was participating for its second year, donating enough for 250 candles. Next year the goal is 300, he said. Last year there were 200.

“We definitely had more turnout this year — I hope that this continues for years to come,” Cohen said. “It’s absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to drive down Route 10.”

Erickson said she’d come back late at night when the crowds had left, as the candles will often burn past midnight.

“It’s just so peaceful,” she said.

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