CHESHIRE — Thousands of luminaries lit up the town on Saturday, turning Lights of Hope into an inferno of goodwill.
Now in its 15th year, Lights of Hope has raised nearly $1 million to date.
“Every year is just unbelievable. The town comes out and people get so into it,” said Jenifer Walsh, co-founder of the event. “We had a 15% increase in our sponsorships this year. We usually have 30 or 40 businesses that sponsor the event along Route 10 … and we’re up 15%.”
Her husband and co-founder Don Walsh added that the organization was “even to a little ahead” of last year’s $75,000 grand total.
The event started at 2 p.m. on the First Congregational Church Green where Walsh and his wife presented thousands of dollars to local charities and organizations. Cheshire Youth and Social Services and the Cheshire Food Pantry both received checks for $13,500 and the Petit Family Foundation received $8,000.
Town resident Gary Richards also unveiled a piece of art he created alongside resident Jeff Petit that was dubbed the “Heart of Hope.” The heart will be passed around to different businesses and organizations around town, starting with the First Congregational Church.
“When Don had approached me about possibly incorporating the arts into the Cheshire Lights of Hope last year I said Absolutely. 100%. Whatever you need,” said Richards. “We came up with the idea of a photo contest.”
Richards said they collected photos people had submitted of their luminaries and decided to “create something really special.” The photo collage was then attached to the “Heart of Hope” to memorialize the spirit of the event.
In one last surprise, Don Walsh announced that Saturday was not only the 15th anniversary of Lights of Hope but also he and Jenifer Walsh’s 23rd wedding anniversary.
“We decided to spend it with a bunch of our friends here,” said Don Walsh. “We make a good team. We work well together, we have a lot of the same thoughts ... I depend on her for a lot of things.”
But Saturday wasn’t just a day of celebration for the Walsh family and the local organization. It was also a treat for the volunteers who have spent time on efforts to better their community.
“I think it’s pretty cool because it’s really pretty at night and it’s all for a good cause,” said volunteer Ella Davis.