CHESHIRE — Cheshire stayed bright as night fell Saturday as thousands of luminaries were lit for the Mile of Hope. Candles were placed along Route 10 from Cheshire Academy to Cheshire High School.
“Lots of small lights, lots of small candles, have an enormous impact when all of them are together, so we each have a part,” said U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who lives in Cheshire and puts out luminaries every year.
The luminaries were sold by the Cheshire charity Lights of Hope to raise money for local charities, which were presented with donations at a ceremony before the Mile of Hope began.
“We’re happy that we can give the money to these organizations that need it. It really makes us feel good that we’re helping a lot of people,” said Don Walsh, president of Lights of Hope.
Don Walsh and his wife, Jenifer Walsh, started selling the luminaries over a decade ago to raise money for the Relay for Life after a neighbor died of cancer. Every year since they have raised money for different causes, co-founding Lights of Hope the year after the 2007 murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters in Cheshire.
When Cheshire residents “drive up their street at night and they see the street lined with luminaries it gives them a good feeling of hope,” Don Walsh said. “The word is an important word.”
“Everyone makes me feel like I’m part of the community,” said Abby Chase, a player on the Quinnipiac Women’s Golf Team, as she lit luminaries alongside a half dozen other players. “It definitely gets everyone thinking about community service.”
The team’s assistant coach, Kerry Brown, who lives in Cheshire, began encouraging her players to take part in the Mile of Hope years ago to help them become more involved in the communities surrounding the school.
“It keeps us grounded,” Chase said, and lets them “give back to the area where we go to school.”
This year the money Lights of Hope raised was donated to the Petit Foundation, Cheshire Youth and Social Services, the Cheshire Community Food Pantry and two $2,000 scholarships for Cheshire High School Students who are involved in community service.
“It’s really nice to know that we can provide for our neighbors in need,” said Jim Thomas, president of the food pantry. He said that Lights of Hope is one of their primary benefactors, including a large donation last year to help build a new building to store food on Sandbank Road.
“No one wants to have to get help, even worse is if people do seek help and we’re not able to provide it,” said Esty, speaking about the heartbreak the food pantry workers experienced when they couldn’t provide food to those in need.
“This is a testament to two things here today, one is to the goodness of this town and how people open their hearts and open their checkbooks to help others,” Esty said. The second being the generosity of the Walsh family, she said.
“I’m so proud of this community and this wonderful family and their vision.”