A family in Maricopa, Ariz., is illuminating their neighborhood this holiday season with an elaborate Christmas display that covers the entire exterior of their house and yard with about 20,000 colorful lights.
Some residents of Fairfield's beach neighborhoods, still feeling the devastation wreaked by Superstorm Sandy, would settle for enough electricity to juice a single light bulb inside their dark homes. Many houses near the shore remain without power since the late October storm pummeled the area with surging flood waters and heavy winds. Other houses, damaged by flood waters are completely uninhabitable and families are staying elsewhere while trying to determine whether they should renovate or relocate.
Since so many families are still displaced from their homes and the darkness of empty houses casts a pall over the beach community despite the holidays, members of Fairfield Ludlowe High School's Key Club decided to brighten things up a bit for the season. They did their part to restore a modicum of light and megawatts of holiday spirit to the battered neighborhoods near the shoreline.
On Sunday, with property owners' permission, club members placed 42 decorated Christmas wreaths on the doors of dark and empty homes along several beach area streets in an initiative they called Bright Lights, Bright Future -- Lighting Up the Beach Neighborhoods.
"We're trying to brighten up people's houses after the hurricane. People need cheering up," said Lilly Boyd, 16.
"We're spreading the holiday spirit for the ones affected by the hurricane," said Blair Wetmur-Bracey, 16.
Key Club Co-president Maggie Calcutt, 17, said a lot of people have returned to their normal routines and are getting ready for Christmas. "They have forgotten how bad the damage was down here and how much difficulty the families that were displaced are going to have trying to get into the Christmas spirit this year," Calcutt said.
Corbinian Wanner, 16, the club's other co-president, said many people mistakenly believe that the most damage occurred along Fairfield Beach Road, but he said "some of the more intense damage happened after Fairfield Beach Road."
For several weeks, the students collected wreaths of real evergreens, battery-operated lights, packs of AA batteries and wreath hangers.
On Sunday, about a dozen club members gathered at the Puritan Road home of the Georgiadis family to decorate the wreaths with red ribbon bows, strings of lights and wide white ribbon with the words Bright Lights Bright Future spray painted in blue lettering by Tina DeJarnette, the Key Club advisor.
The idea for the project came from Dru Georgiadis "just to bring a little happiness to the neighborhood." Georgiadis said a number of the houses in the area are still without lights and many are uninhabitable. Several have been condemned and will have to be razed, she said.
Georgiadis said several of her neighbors are struggling with the decisions they have to make. "They're trying to do the math. What are they going to get from insurance? What are they going to get from FEMA? Can they afford to rebuild or renovate, and are we just going to get another storm next year?
The Ludlowe students said they hope their efforts provided at least a little bit of hope and holiday cheer for the residents who are still hurting.
"It's bringing hope to the community for rebuilding," said Meghan Maciejewski, 16.
Pat Fortunato, 14, said the students' project was an effort to show that the Christmas spirit still exists, and not washed away by natural disaster. "It shows people aren't giving up hope, even if they houses were flooded," he said.
"It gives Fairfield hope after Sandy and shows that we're still strong," said Jason Krajnak, 14.