It’s official: The Festival of the Lights Committee is no longer responsible for setting up the Christmas lights along medians of Chandler Boulevard between Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street.
That job now falls to the Foothills Community Association.
But that doesn’t mean the FOL Committee won’t be raising money to help the HOA – even as the association is asking the Ahwatukee community to chip in and help keep the lights burning.
What it does mean, said FOL Committee President Raphael Isaac, is that his group is morphing into a charitable organization with a broader purpose: developing community events to raise money for the lights as well as other charitable activities in Ahwatukee.
“We had a board meeting two weeks ago and it would appear, at least right now, that the transition is complete,” Isaac told AFN. “We’ve finished all the work on the medians. We’ve paid everybody that needed to be paid. Everything’s been signed off. So, the HOA is getting basically a completed turn-key operation.
“My understanding is they’re, at least for this year, planning on continuing with Christmas Light Decorators and doing everything that they want to do,” he continued, referring to the company that sets up the lights.”
The HOA has begun soliciting donations. All donors making a donation of $200 or more will be able to pick up a free yard sign at PostNet, 4611 E Chandler Blvd, Ste 112, Ahwatukee, starting Friday Sept. 3. It has set up a GoFundMe.com page that can be found by searching "festival of lights."
Isaac echoed what HOA board members have previously said – namely that this year’s display may be slightly smaller, though that has not yet been determined.
“But their goal right now is to try to make it the same as it’s always been,” he added.
The million white lights fall within the boundaries of the Foothills HOA and its board agreed to take over the costs of maintaining the show that runs throughout the holidays.
Traditionally, the HOA kicked in $50,000 a year for the lights and was joined by the Foothills Club West Association HOA, which threw in $25,000.
Club West HOA’s board has agreed to make that payment again this year, but it has not decided what to do about future support.
Club West board members have indicated they likely will put future donations up for a vote by homeowners.
Isaac also put to an end any hope that the FOL Kick-Off Party is returning this year – or any future year in its traditional format.
For more than two decades, the committee hosted a giant day-long party on the Saturday after Thanksgiving that drew thousands of people – but also required hundreds of volunteers and cost more than twice what the committee saw in revenue.
“With COVID popping up again,” Isaac said, “I think the decision to postpone Kick-Off this year was maybe a good one because – again, I talk to the Parks Department every now and then and they’re very sketchy about having a big event.
“The Police Department, the Fire Department, highways – everyone else that we have to involve is not so keen on it either. With all these different variants and stuff, just laying low for the remainder of this year.”
While Isaac said the FOL Committee has not ruled out a smaller Kick Off Party next year to help the Foothills HOA, for now board members are focusing on returning to another popular community event that also fell victim to the pandemic for the second consecutive year.
He said the FOL Committee hopes to bring back the Beer and Wine Tasting Festival next March or April – assuming by then COVID-19 will no longer be a menace to large gatherings.
And that festival likely will be just one of many events the committee will sponsor to raise money not only to help the Foothills HOA but to benefit other charities.
But helping the Foothills HOA with the lights show must be part of any event so that the committee can stay within parameters of its federal nonprofit designation.
“If we can donate $1,000 or $1,500 or whatever it might be towards the lights out of each event, we will still do that,” Isaac said. “That will allow us to still sort of stay within the guidelines of our 501c3 designation. Otherwise, we would have to completely reinvent ourselves and refile everything and that’s something that I’m trying not to do.”
Before the pandemic forced the committee to pull the plug on the 2020 beer and wine event, the board had planned to add the word “culinary” to the title by putting a bigger emphasis on food – generally from Ahwatukee restaurants.
That’s still the plan for next year, he said, along with an expanded wine pull.
While the event had been held for several years at Rawhide Western Town and Event Center, the committee had to move it back to the Foothills Country Club in 2019. Besides the spring Beer Wine & Culinary Festival, Isaac added that the FOL Committee also is talking about a possible Octoberfest next year as well so that hard liquor sponsors can join the fun.