Thanks to record-breaking attendance at Lake Julian Park Festival of Lights, Buncombe County has raised $14,669.50 for local Special Olympics athletes. 33,540 attendees drove through thousands of magical lights and holiday displays at the park from Dec. 1-23 with a portion of the $10 entry fee (per vehicle) benefitting the program for individuals with cognitive disabilities.
“We didn’t just break our previous attendance record – we smashed it,” according to Peyton O’Conner, Director of Buncombe County Recreation Services, which produces the event. “This is wonderful validation for the team of volunteers, Lake Julian park rangers, and Recreation Services staff that worked hard to make this year’s festival the best yet. COVID-19 upended many holiday celebrations in 2020, so Festival of Lights provided a safe way for members of the same household to get festive and experience some cheer.”
A new addition this year was a community night to benefit MANNA FoodBank. On Dec. 8, admission was free for visitors who donated non-perishable healthy grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables from the organization's Most Needed Food List. 3,520 lbs. of food and $50 were collected, enough to provide 3,133 meals for individuals experiencing food insecurity in western North Carolina. On a separate night for Buncombe County employees, enough food was donated for an additional 1,022 meals.
Celebrating its twentieth year, Festival of Lights donates 20% of its proceeds to Special Olympics Buncombe County. Each year, new lights and displays are added with the remainder of proceeds and older displays are retired. The placement of holiday scenes changes annually to ensure the experience remains fresh.
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