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Light Up Middletown 2002 Report
Monday, February 17, 2003 12:00:00 AM - Monroe Ohio
A community drive-through holiday light display designed to showcase Smith Park and the Middletown area while raising funds to improve Middletown’s parks. Major light displays, lighted trees and luminarias, with snowflakes scattered along the driving trail.

November 29 through December 31, 2001 (33 days of operation – 6 fewer days than in 2001) 5:30-9:30 pm every day, regardless of weather.

A volunteer organization.

Light Up Middletown is a 501 (c) 3 tax exempt organization with the stated purpose of raising funds to improve the public parks of Middletown.

The month-long event staged at Smith Park is designated as the fund-raising operation. Several Middletown area people, organizations and businesses volunteer time and equipment to prepare, staff, maintain and store the displays.

City of Middletown crews help with their specialized equipment when needed, but the majority of the labor is performed by volunteers.

“The Grandpa Gang” erected the displays. Once the event opened, the Grandpas took turns maintaining and opening and closing the display each evening. The same group is dismantling, repairing and storing the displays for next year in donated space in a local warehouse.

Each evening of operation, 2-3 volunteers representing an area non-profit organization greeted guests, asked their home county and the number in the vehicle. Volunteers also kept an eye on the operation. Middletown High School Athletic Booster Club, MHS Musical Arts Association, Monroe High School Athletic Boosters, Garfield Alternative Education Center, Middletown Journal employees and individual volunteers staffed the entrance gate. Volunteers in the year 2002 worked in all kinds of weather, some of it bitterly cold.

The Grinch and Santa Claus visited several times and the Let’s Read Together Buddy Bear made a single appearance.

No admission was charged but donation boxes were available at both the entrance and exit. Donations are used to pay for additional displays, replace and repair current displays, install electrical service to Smith Park and shared with volunteer organizations who staff the 33 days of operation—132 hours. Each volunteer organization staffing the entrance received $60 for their treasury for each night of staffing. Some organizations refused the payment and donated their time.

Thanks to those who donated as they toured Light Up Middletown and to those who sent donation checks throughout the year, the current $27,000 debt incurred for installation of electrical service at Smith Park in 1999 will be reduced.

Two local citizens have assisted Light Up Middletown by paying off the bank loan and allowing Light Up to save the cost of interest on the original loan. Light up is gradually repaying these individuals without interest expense.

Donations came in many forms: Cash, significant discounts from area suppliers, free use of equipment from businesses, free food for the construction crews…

And items in the donation box other than cash included:

1 Olive Garden after dinner mint
1 Baby food jar full of coins
1 Envelope with blank paper inside (same as last year)
3 Brochures advertising other area holiday events
1 Metal coin with 10 Commandments stamped on the face
1 Plastic case with blue blob inside
8 Game tokens
1 Metal button
1 Note from visitor
1 Safety pin
2 Car wash token
1 Foreign coin
1 Political brochure – Catherine Stoken
4 Religious brochure
1 Envelope with “Verry Mice-thank you” note – contained $1
1 Earring back
1 Note – “Where is Christ”
1 Note with $100 attached
1 Packet of Equal sweetener
3 Cans of food – green beans, corn, chicken soup
1 Candy cane
1 Small pencil
1 Metal washer
1 business card
1 Small piece of cheese
1 McGee’s grocery receipt – Kraft American Singles and 2 bottles of Vitamin D
1 $2 lottery ticket – a winner

Many people learned of the event from newspaper, magazine, tv and radio news reports.

10 news releases were sent to magazines, newspapers, radio, tv and others.

Middletown Journal, Dayton Daily News, Cincinnati Enquirer listed Light Up Middletown in their entertainment guides. Middletown Journal ran several photos and articles during the season.

Outlets giving coverage included:
Middletown Journal
Dayton Daily News
TV Middletown
Good News Magazine
Senior Citizens Newsletter
Special ad page in Middletown Journal

Directional signs were placed along SR73, SR4 and SR122 leading to downtown Middletown.

Light Up Middletown continues to suggest, with some limited success to date, that other area organizations present lighted displays as a part of the Light Up Middletown event. Light Up Middletown volunteers will direct guests to other displays in the area. In 2002, Light Up volunteers handed out flyers about the Live Nativity scene at a local church.

Total site donations$26,334$30,723$25,287
Other Donations0$5,435$14,310
Displays purchased$6,257$8,619$9,138
Donations to volunteer workers’ organizations$1,290$1,140$1,680
Repairs and maintenance supplies$1,938$2,298$3,818
Donation to City of Middletown for Parks$2,500$3,000$2,500
Paid on debt$15,000$15,000$18,000

NOTE: Not all expenses have been recorded.Light Up Middletown now owns light displays valued at approximately $130,000.
Light Up Middletown has donated to the City of Middletown electrical service installed in Smith Park valued at approximately $120,000. Additional year-round lighting at the entrance has been installed using a $2,500 donation made by Light Up.

People from nearby and far away places visited Light Up Middletown. Local citizens brought out-of-town guests to visit Light Up. Many, many families included their pets in the experience.
Raw totals are misleading since each Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve season is of a different length. For instance, the 2002 season was six days shorter than the 2001 season.

No. people per vehicle3.33.33.2
Donation per vehicle$1.78$1.78$1.68
Donation per person$0.54$0.54$0.53
Percentage of vehicles from:
  Butler County74%73%74%
  Warren County14%14%13%
  Other Ohio Counties10%11%11%
Other States2%2%2%
Busiest night was:12/14* 12/15 12/1
819 Vehicles791 vehicles727 vehicles
2786 people2764 people2,195 people
* Grand reopening of Central Avenue
Least busy night was: 12/3012/1712/13
199 vehicles166 vehicles 65 vehicles
559 people555 people198 people
Highest donation night:12/1412/1512/2
Lowest donation night:12/1912/2612/13


48,561 people enjoyed a tour through “Fantasyland.” Reports from those who toured included many who returned to bring friends and visiting family. Many are making a tour of Light Up an annual tradition.
While there is no rule of thumb or “multiplier” available to attach a dollar figure to the impact those out-of-area guests might have had on the local economy, one could assume that several of those people probably ate a meal, stopped at a retail store or purchased gasoline while in the area.
Other volunteer organizations are able to earn funds for their treasury while providing reliable staffing to greet guests, provide a “presence” and compile statistics.
The City of Middletown and the Convention and Visitors Bureau can boast of yet another fine event on its annual calendar.

An extensive electrical installation in Smith Park is available for use by other organizations for events. Probably, the hot air balloon event planned for August, 2003 will make use of the electrical service added for Light Up.

A new tradition has begun with a winter event. It requires very few people to staff the event – 2-3 each evening.

Once the original debt has been paid, the proceeds will be used to upgrade Middletown City parks.

Vandalism was more significant in this fourth season than ever before. Regular maintenance by the volunteer crew replaced missing bulbs, repaired damaged displays and retrieved a swan (twice) and speakers from the lake. City police and fire crews also assisted with retrieval and control of vandalism. A few young “bulb snatchers” were apprehended and their parents made “donations” to Light Up to cover the damage.

Staffing the entrance to the event is necessary. Staff members greet guests with a smile, listen to compliments and suggestions for improvements, provide subtle encouragement to drop a dollar or two in the donation box.

When the gate was seemingly unmanned, very few vehicles stopped to donate. Even when workers were sitting in vehicles nearby, there were fewer donations than when someone was standing at the entrance greeting each vehicle.

Many visitors chose to help through their donations. Many did not.

Since income is solely through donations, it is important to encourage donations from guests in each vehicle. While many vehicles toured without donation, and that is certainly acceptable, many others made larger donations - $5, $10, $20 or more. One left a $100 bill.

Fewer out-of-area motor coaches toured the display this year. (That seems to be a trend attributable to the economic downturn.) Many area retirement motor coaches and high school sports teams made their usual trip or two through the display.

The average number of guests each evening was higher in 2002. An average of 1,472 people in 448 vehicles toured the display each of the 33 evenings in 2002. In 2001, 1452 people in 443 vehicles toured.

Volunteers estimate that approximately 1/3 of the visitors donate nothing as they tour. Many fail to see the connection between the continuation and improvement of the event and their donation.

Arranging a donation opportunity at both the entrance and exit points has helped but other ways to encourage free will donations will be sought. One suggestion was to install a STOP sign at the entrance booth.

Additional displays will be added for next year, if funds allow.

A system of continuity for the operation will be discussed. Since most members of the committee and construction crews are well beyond 60 years of age, younger members of both groups will be recruited and invited to help carry on the newest tradition in Middletown.

Story submitted by: Ann Mort
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