Lights of Hope brightens the night

Nov. 12, 2016

By Lauren Takores Special to the Record-Journal

CHESHIRE — Candles illuminated a hopeful glow from tens of thousands of luminaries lining the streets in Cheshire as the sun set on Saturday.

Lights of Hope, a fundraiser for local community organizations, brought in $65,000 this year from luminary sales and business sponsorships.

The funds benefit Cheshire Youth and Social Services, Cheshire Food Pantry, the Petit Family Foundation and pay for two high school scholarships.

“All that money is staying within this community,” Don Walsh said. “We focus on neighbors helping neighbors.”

Before Saturday, 55,000 luminaries were sold, and more were sold on Saturday at a drive-up stand on the Town Green and at RW Hine ACE Hardware. Luminaries contained candles that could burn up to 15 hours.

The event drew 190 street captains who organized luminaries along 257 streets, said Edmonde Bernier Jr., volunteer coordinator.

He also said about 120 volunteers helped Saturday to set up and light luminaries along the Mile of Hope, and about 40 volunteers per day helped during the week putting kits together and distributing them to street captains.

The Mile of Hope stretches from Cheshire Academy to Cheshire High School along Route 10.

Paul Fiedler, longtime Cheshire resident and street captain for Guinevere Ridge, made it a group project with his two school-aged children.

“You never know when you going to be at a point when you may need some help yourself,” Fiedler said.

He stepped into the role of street captain this year after volunteering in the past. He and his family set up 15 luminaries along the 40-house road and helped set up luminaries in front of the First Congregational Church.

He said he was motivated to get involved by the community building.

“It’s a great thing to volunteer in the community when you can and it’s important to do, to give back,” he said.

This year saw a 10 to 15 percent increase in luminaries sales, Walsh said.

Steve Thomas, marketing coordinator, attributed this to better communication through email lists, social media and website promotion, along with traditional phone calls.

“The same message was going out through all the channels, but we were reaching more people,” Thomas said.

Thomas said his next step is to invite people from out of town to drive through the area, and see the lights “based on the beauty of the night itself.”

U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty attended the awards ceremony. She first got involved with Lights of Hope as a member of the Cheshire Town Council.

She said she’s “proud of the community” and the focus of neighbors helping neighbors.

“It’s not just people (in need), it’s friends and neighbors in this community who are in need,” she said.

Lights of Hope grew in part as a response of love and support after the Petit family home invasion in 2007.

“It’s such an important statement about hope and light and love in the face of very dark times,” Esty said. “We get to a better place by helping each other. ... Cheshire can help lead the way in conversations, like Lights of Hope.”

Lights of Hope has raised more than $700,000 for Cheshire community organizations.