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A million-light holiday idea

A group of volunteer carolers serenaded a line of vehicles pulling into the Holiday Lights in the Park event at Lake Phalen in St. Paul Sunday, Dec. 7. Staff photo by Hank Long

It's a holiday lights display that is getting attention from folks around the Twin Cities, and for good reason.

The "Holiday Lights in the Park" event at Lake Phalen in St. Paul is using millions of lights to raise thousands of dollars for Twin Cities charities that are in need of cash.

Several organizations have helped organize and sponsor the holiday lights drive-thru display that lines the road around the East Side lake, but one church in Woodbury is behind it all.

Members of King of Kings Lutheran Church began the process for planning the first ever Holiday Lights in the Park more than a year ago during a brainstorming session on how to raise more money for local charities like Second Harvest and Union Gospel Mission, said event co-hair Lisa Engh.

"We had heard from a lot of these charities, and they were telling us that, especially right now, what they needed more than anything was cash," said Engh, a member of King of Kings. "We were thinking of ways we could help raise money, and that's how the Holiday Lights in the Park was born."

Engh told parish Pastor Ralph Olsen about the idea to raise money through a holiday lights display, who gave her the OK.

"I think we thought it was a great idea and said 'If God wants this it will happen and the doors will open to make this possible,'" Olsen said. "And you know? They opened."

Early in the process, Engh and other church members began forming a council to organize the event. It didn't take long before they recruited hordes of willing volunteers and dozens of organizations to partner or sponsor the event.

Upgrading the park

One of the organizations to step up was the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

The local union chapters in St. Paul and Minneapolis have volunteered hundreds of hours and more than $70,000 of work in making electrical upgrades to the Lake Phalen park to allow for the more than million-light display.

"Power at Lake Phalen was very limited," said event co-chair and IBEW marketing director Vicki Sandberg. "So in order for these lights to be operational, we needed to have a lot of volunteers who knew how to get the work done and were willing to do it. When King of Kings approached we were really excited to be a part of something so neat, and something that really helps out those in need."

Initially, Engh said, event organizers were looking into Woodbury and other areas of Washington County for possible locations to install the dozens of giant-sized lights installations, which were rented from a national company. But after much deliberation, organizers felt that St. Paul would be the best location for a variety of reasons.

"The city of St. Paul met with us and told us they thought Lake Phalen would be the best spot, and we couldn't have asked for a better location," Engh said.

A community effort

As a result, several churches and businesses in the Lake Phalen neighborhood have stepped up to offer volunteers for the event, which along with the drive-through lights display, features carolers and fresh-baked cookies for sale, with all proceeds going to charity.

Pastor Olsen said the event has really brightened up the spirits of the Lake Phalen neighborhood, which experienced some issues with crime in the past year.

"We definitely see this event as an opportunity for us to plant a seed in Lake Phalen, which is a wonderful community," Olsen said. "We've had so many people from the neighborhood come forward and get excited about this. It's my dream that we can make this an annual event, because it not only raises a lot of money for charities that need it, but it really has brought our communities together."

"Holiday Lights in the Park" at Lake Phalen in St. Paul will be open through Dec. 31.

Cost of admission is $8-$10 per vehicle.

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