2019-03-08 / Front Page

Parade of Lights benefits Toys for Tots – it’s not too early to plan

By Malcolm Jacob
Contributing Writer


Toys collected for the Parade of Lights serve as a kick off to the Toys for Tots season. (Courtesy photo) Toys collected for the Parade of Lights serve as a kick off to the Toys for Tots season. (Courtesy photo) It’s still early in the New Year, but a group of do-gooders is already thinking ahead to

Christmas.

The Casco Bay Summertime Parade of Lights is once again coming to South Portland. In its sixth year, the 2019 event will be held Saturday, Aug. 3.

The parade is organized by the South Portland Lions Club and it raises money and collects toys for the Toys for Tots program. The boats will depart from a staging area at Bug Light Park and will proceed along both sides of the Fore River. Toys that are collected will be distributed to local families as Christmas gifts.

Shawn Welch, a sport fishing captain and president of the South Portland Lions Club, is the lead organizer of the parade. He believes the cause is one that extends beyond city boundaries and helping children in need is something that anybody can do, no matter how small the contribution.

“By lightning up our boats, we are helping to give children a brighter Christmas,” Welch said.

Toys for Tots is a program that began through the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Locations are found across the state, and many local businesses are eager to put collection boxes at their doors.

Carol Lombard is coordinator of Toys for Tots’ southern York County program. Each year her campaign helps about 1,400 children in Maine. She is grateful for the Parade of Lights because in many ways it begins the annual process of collecting toys. It is held in summer, while most events take place before Christmas.

“It’s in August, so it’s the first big event for Toys for Tots,” Lombard said. “Then we hit the ground running. It wakes us up.”

Lombard said Toys for Tots is always in need of volunteer “elves” to help with distributing toys in the winter. Local businesses are important for collecting the donations in time for Christmas, but the next step is pairing children with gifts that they will enjoy. To her, this is a very rewarding experience.

The first Parade of Lights was held in 2014. Since then the event has collected hundreds of toys and has made the community increasingly more aware of this cause.

Welch’s official announcement of the parade lists these statistics: “To recap the previous years, since the first parade in 2014, the Casco Bay Summer Time Parade of Lights has generated a total of 469 toy donations, $3,055 in Monetary Contributions, and has had over 70 boats participate over the last five years.”

Organizers always set a new benchmark to work toward. The goal for this summer is to gather 250 toys and $1,500 in donations.

More than 70 boats have participated during these five years, with each parade bringing in between 18 and 24 vessels. Every year the decorations become more creative, as participants share their new ideas with one another. In one parade, for example, Welch covered his boat in large globes of light.

The event also features a 50/50 raffle and offers prizes that include crafts and T-shirts. It is fun for all ages, and Welch is always sure to communicate with the Coast Guard and encourages participants to follow safety guidelines.

Anyone who includes their boat in the parade is asked to donate a minimum of two new, unwrapped toys as an entry fee. Those who aren’t on the water for the event can still participate by bringing donations to the various collection points.

For more information on the Casco Bay Summertime Parade of Lights, contact Welch at 838-5605, or Lombard at 776-2601.

FMI

To participate in the Casco Bay Summertime Parade of Lights Saturday, Aug. 3, call organizers at 838- 5605 or 776-2601.

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