United Way starts holiday lights contest

Published 8:19 pm Tuesday, December 1, 2020

As United Way of Freeborn County launches its annual campaign, it has added a new fundraiser to the mix that hopes to brighten everyone’s holidays.

The first annual Gift of Lights contest was set to open for registration Tuesday. Through the contest, residents, businesses and organizations in Freeborn County are encouraged to decorate their homes and buildings with outdoor lights and decorations. Residential entry fees are $15, and business and organization fees are $25, with all proceeds going to United Way’s annual campaign. Entry forms and fees must be turned in by Dec. 11 by mailing to Gift of Lights, P.O. Box 686, Albert Lea, MN 56007; or online at www.unitedwayfc.org.

United Way of Freeborn County Executive Director Erin Haag said the idea was suggested by a local businessman who remembered the lights contest from when he was a child. Haag said the man wished to remain anonymous, but said he would sponsor some of the contest prizes.

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“Ultimately, we’re hoping that this will become a signature event with United Way and its partner agencies,” she said. “Our goal is to build something that can bring joy and also provide a collective fundraiser for nonprofits.”

Entries will be judged on curb appeal, and indoor decorations will not be included in the judging unless they can be viewed from outside. All entries must include lights or illumination and be in good taste and family oriented, according to the contest entry form. All entries must remain lit during waking hours and decorated from Dec. 17 through Dec. 31.

A panel of judges will examine all entries during evening hours on an unannounced date somewhere from 5 to 9 p.m. between Dec. 17 and Dec. 22. The different contest categories are County Best in the Northwest; County Best in the Northeast; County Best in the Southwest; County Best in the Southeast; Best of Town of Albert Lea; Most Whoville — “over the top, whimsical, as opposite from Grinchy as you can get,” according to the entry form; Christmas Comedy — meant to be inspired by favorite funny Christmas movies; Charlie Brown — “decorate the dog house, the boat, the barn, the fence … anything but your house,” according to the entry form; and Best of Show.

Residents participating are competing for $200 in gift cards to local businesses, or $500 in gift cards for the Best in Show category. Businesses and organization entrants will receive a trophy and the amount of their prize will be purchased with gift cards from their business or a local business of their choosing and divided between the residential categories. The entry form called it a way for businesses to “promote your business and help our economy.” Winners will be announced on Jay Paul’s Power 96 radio morning show at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 23 and then posted on social media and United Way’s website. Those with questions can contact United Way at lights@unitedwayfc.org or 507-373-8670.

All participants will be provided with a United Way of Freeborn County sign that must be displayed in their yard. Contestants are encouraged to ask for and accept donations, according to the entry form, but donations must be for United Way of Freeborn County only. Participants are asked to notify United Way of Freeborn County in advance if they wish to ask for donations. Donations may be monetary or items toward a United Way program, such as the winter gear drive.

“We have big dreams, which would include some sort of Christmas extravaganza, with United Way being the host but individual nonprofits would have the opportunity to have booths to earn money for themselves as well beyond their United Way granting,” Haag said. “This year, we’re looking to have some fun — safely — within COVID-19 guidelines, and to promote a little teaser for next year.”


About Colleen Harrison

Colleen Harrison is the photo editor at the Albert Lea Tribune. She does photography and writes general-assignment stories.

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