On Dec. 6, the downtown Mercer Island air will be filled with the sound of caroling, the twinkling of lights and the smell of chili. The community rallied to bring back the Mercerdale Park holiday lights and firehouse munch this year after it had been cut from the city budget.
It’s thanks to donations, volunteers, community planning, the city, the parks and recreation department, and the Mercer Island fire union that the event is possible.
“When everybody drives by, they get to see colors, they get to see something to smile at,” said Tinya Anderson, one of a group of residents who decided to fight for the event.
Beginning at 6:30 p.m., festivities will take place at the park, including mayor’s remarks and performances by the Mercer Island High School choir and Diwali dancers from the Island Indian community. There also will be The Dickens Carolers singing and handing out candy just before the event, as well as downtown businesses handing out goodies and hot chocolate. At about 6:40 p.m., the lights will be flipped on by Lisa and Rino Caruccio, 2018 citizens of the year.
The evening continues at the firehouse, where off duty firefighters will be donating their time to serve chili to the community. There also will be an arts and crafts room, photo opportunities with a firetruck and firefighters, and music performances. They also will be running a “fill the boot” drive to support muscular dystrophy.
About 500 people are expected to attend. The park’s tree is an 80-foot high sequoia that is now covered with about 2,000 lights. Lights dawn the surrounding hedges as well, and the event will also feature additional decorations including a menorah. The work for the lights is contracted out with Fleming’s Holiday Lighting who completed all of the installation.
The city had announced in January 2019 that it would, due to financial constraints, have to cancel several community traditions, including the annual summer celebration and the holiday lights at Mercerdale Park (http://www.mi-reporter.com/news/city-of-mercer-island-cuts-summer-celebration-other-events/). But several community members joined together to restore the lights and the firehouse munch.
Anderson said some of those same community members, including herself and friend Kirk Robinson, had undergone a similar project to restore the Island’s annual Fourth of July picnic, ensuring the tradition continued. It was at the picnic that she and Robinson heard a strong community desire for the Mercerdale Park lights to happen and decided to tackle that as their next project. So the group began collaborating with the city.
Robinson, an Islander and Bothell firefighter, died in October.
Anderson said he was a dear friend and a major advocate for making the holiday lights and firehouse munch events happen. She said losing him was a tough blow, but inspired the group to push harder to plan the details of the event.
“He was everybody’s best friend,” she said. “There will be a moment honoring him. I’m very proud of that.”
She said the evening also will include a statement honoring Robinson, read by interim city manager Jessi Bon.
Anderson said the main two points of contact at the city for the event have been Bon and Diane Mortenson, the community engagement and program manager for the city’s parks and recreation department.
“The event is coming together quite nicely with a lot of community support supporting the parks and recreation department at the city to make this happen,” Mortenson said. “We’re thankful that we’re able to have the event because of the community volunteers and support both helping to coordinate and fund the event.”
She also said she is excited to see a greater variety of participating organizations, businesses and entertainment at both parts of the event than in years past.
“We look at this event as the kick off for the holiday season for the community,” Mortenson said. “It’s a fantastic event. It’s been a long tradition here on Mercer Island.”
Anderson said the partnership with the city and the fire union has been wonderful. The fire union is paying for all of the chili that will be served and the city is paying for the lights to be on each night from Dec. 6 until Jan. 1.
“Working with the city was great. They helped us bring back some of the traditions,” she said.
She also said a big goal with the event was inclusivity and making sure all community members could feel welcome and safe. They worked to gain interest of and partner with different cultures, religions, and community groups. She said the Stroum Jewish Community Center also has been highly involved.
“We want this to be a true community event. That was really important to us and incredibly well received by the city,” Anderson said.
She said the group of citizens is comprised of about 10 people, and they’ve told her they’re happy to do it.
“It does take a team. It’s definitely not something one or two people can do together even with the help of the city,” she said. “I can’t tell you how much joy and happiness we get from this event — happiness we get back from the community.”
The group is still hoping for more donations. People can go to the Mercer Island Together Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more or to join the cause.
“It’s such a beautiful community. There are more similarities than differences. We want to bring out the positives instead of Nextdoor negativity. We want to show our joy and happiness with this event and bring neighbors together in a way they may not otherwise have met,” Anderson said. “Really the true heart of the matter is bringing back tradition and togetherness for the community. I hope more people step up and do things like that.”