So long 2020, thanks for forcing us to think outside the box!
It’s no secret that this year has been challenging, heartbreaking, and full of uncertainty for many people and if you watch the news, are on social media, or have had the pleasure of conversing with your neighbors or friends, you’ll also know that most people are looking forward to putting this year behind them. However, not everything in 2020 has been all bad.
When the Belgrade Community Coalition decided earlier this year that we would not be able to hold our biggest community building event as usual, we kicked it into high gear and began thinking of alternative ideas that would still allow us to offer some sort of celebratory affair as part of the Belgrade Festival of Lights, a community event we have overseen for the last four years.
Some ideas came easy, the gingerbread house contest and Jingle Jog could be done virtually. And with the support of some Belgrade businesses who have been our cheerleaders and community building partners for years, we were able to offer outstanding prizes for these virtual activities. Special thanks to The Mint, Bar 3 BBQ, MacKenzie River, and Cosmic Pizza who even though knew we would not be able to help bring crowds of people through their doors on the night of the Festival of Lights, still provided donations and prizes for the greater good of our community and this event. Please don’t forget about these businesses next time you decide to dine out or order in and tell them how much you appreciate that they are a part of our community.
After the easy adjustments to the 2020 Festival of Lights were made, we started focusing on the bigger and more involved ideas. First was the Holiday Light Park at the Senior Center. I had been eyeing the walking path for the past couple years and envisioned it being a great place for a winter wonderland addition to the Festival. Luckily for us, the Senior Center has a gracious Board and an amazing and energetic Executive Director, Lisa Beedy who see the center as not just a place for seniors but as a center for the whole community. Once we got the go ahead to use their space, it took a few weekends of prep work from a handful of Morrison-Maierle staff who volunteered their time and energy to bring power to the park. Next came an afternoon where a small army of volunteers, including employees and family members from Rauser Builders, Northwest Energy, Rocky Mountain Contractors and the Church of Christ, built the Memorial Light Tunnels, hung lights donated from BirdDog Lighting (the company who has literally given light to the Festival of Lights!), erected artificial trees, and watched in amazement as the 18 foot Frosty the Snowman took his first breaths of inflatable air. We cheered when the lights came on that evening and were proud of the place we created so families could enjoy the light and magic of Christmas in a safe and socially distant environment for the whole month of December. It has been a joy watching people young and old, from our community and others, flocked to the park where they have an opportunity to actually EXPERIENCE something in 2020 instead of just watch from a distance.
The final, and most exciting, piece to this year’s Festival of Lights put Belgrade on the map in 2020 and was dubbed by many as the best thing to happen in Belgrade - not just this year but throughout time. Over 60 construction vehicles decked out in sparkling lights and beeping their horns to jingle bells spread Christmas cheer throughout our town for all to see during our first ever Christmas Convoy. After such a hard year of isolation people flocked to their yards, parked their cars along the route, and cheered from the sidewalks to see such an amazing spectacle. Many in the crowd, as well as the truck drivers, and the BCC board and volunteers shed a few tears that night from the overwhelming emotion that overcame us as we took pause from the outside world and focused on the pure joy of the evening.
The emotions continued all week as we watched the special video footage, accompanied by the most appropriate song, gifted to our community from Ben Goertzen of Red Yeti Productions as he flew across the sky like Santa Claus in a chopper masterly maneuvered by Mark Taylor from Rocky Mountain Rotors. The twinkling trucks making their way through our community weren’t just any old trucks, many were from businesses who have donated and sponsored the Festival of Lights in big ways over the past four years. Businesses like TMC, Treasure State Inc., Kenyon Noble, D&D Trucking, and Sime. It was also not lost on us that the rest of the convoy was made up of businesses who actually do build Belgrade, employ Belgrade people, and live in, play in, and support our community. We thank these businesses for all they do and thank the drivers for being a part of our first Christmas Convoy. We also thank the City of Belgrade, Belgrade City Council, Belgrade Police Department, and Central Valley Fire for allowing us to venture out and try these new ideas. We know events like the Festival of Lights require your staff to go above and beyond and we are thankful for your help and support year after year.
Our final thank you goes to Ken Murphy Jr., Operations Manager at TMC, who was not only the brainchild of the convoy but was also the major organizer and executor of the event, along with Mark Maierle, Ben Flis and BCC Board Member Amber Stacy who all volunteered their time to make it happen.
Speaking of volunteers, did you know that everything the BCC does is driven by volunteers? Our board, our committees, our event planning, fundraising efforts, and all the boots on the ground making things happen are through volunteer hours given to us from people who love our community and want to do their part to make Belgrade, BelGreat!
As this year comes to a close and we look towards making the Light Park and Christmas Convoy permanent fixtures of the Festival of Lights, we ask for your help. As you are closing your books in 2020, if you are looking for a nonprofit to donate to, please consider the Belgrade Community Coalition. Donating to our 501c3 is easy, just visit belgreatmt.org and click the donate tab at the top.
Finally, we invite you to enjoy the last few nights of the Light Park as we will be packing it up until next year come Sunday, January 3rd. As mentioned before, everything we do is done by volunteers so if you would like to help, please join us at 12pm on the third at the Belgrade Senior Center walking path. Feel free to just show up or you can let us know your coming by going to belgreatmt.org and signing up for a volunteer spot.
One thing this year has taught me personally is that I am grateful to live in Montana and most of all, I am grateful to live in the Belgrade community with all of you.
See you in 2021! (Article written for the Belgrade News)