Festival of Lights cancelled this year

<p>A family poses for a photo near the wreath during the 2012 Eastern Oregon Festival of Lights. The Festival of Lights committee announced Tuesday the 2013 event has been cancelled.</p>

Hermiston will be a little less merry this Christmas season after the Festival of Lights committee announced Tuesday this year’s event has been canceled.

The Eastern Oregon Festival of Lights begins with a parade after Thanksgiving and runs Thursdays through Sundays through the month of December until the weekend before Christmas and features displays, vendors, Santa Claus and Christmas lights and decorations at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds.

“It’s really a wonderful event, and it’s free to the public,”?committee member Karen Hutchinson-Talaski said, adding while the event will not take place this holiday season, committee members want to bring it back in 2014.

Hutchinson-Talaski said the festival committee is very disappointed about not being able to put on the event this year, but a number of circumstances have worked against it.

She said, after quite a bit of discussion, festival committee members decided they did not have enough time to get the event off the ground this year. The committee, she said, is comprised of a small group of volunteers, who are all busy, and the event requires a lot of work and time commitment.

Hutchinson-Talaski said the board also anticipated receiving a 501-C3 non-profit designation from the Internal Revenue Service before now. Hutchinson-Talaski said while the committee applied for 501-C3 non-profit status this spring, it has still not received approval, and the Umatilla County Fair Board is waiting for that to happen before signing off on a contract that would, among other things, turn over the lighting for the event to the committee.

Since taking over the event from the Fair Board a couple of years ago, the committee has borrowed the equipment, but fairgrounds employees have had to be present while the lighting and fixtures were set up and the equipment checked to ensure it was in working order, Hutchinson-Talaski said. Just setting up the lighting and fixtures is a lengthy process, she said.

“Realistically, we should have started last month,”?Hutchinson-Talaski said.

In addition, the committee was told it cannot use household electrical extension cords and must purchase outdoor extension cords for the lighting fixtures and displays, which cost quite a bit of money. She said the committee has money saved up but not enough to buy all new extension cords as well as additional lighting and new displays.

Mostly, however, Hutchinson-Talaski said the year-long hiatus will give the committee time to plan and hopefully recruit new volunteers. Hutchinson-Talaski said the committee has had help in the past, but not enough.

She said a lot goes in to coordinating the event. In addition to hanging up lights and setting up displays, she said, volunteers have to arrive early before the fairgrounds are open to the public each night and stay late, patrol the grounds to make sure nothing is stolen as well as collect donations to help support the event.

Hutchinson-Talaski said one person the committee has relied upon in the past is unable to contribute this year because of health issues, and, while the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been very helpful in the past, the committee cannot rely entirely upon it.

She said the committee will convene in January to plan for next year and is hoping to recruit more volunteers and organizations willing to put in an hour here and there to ensure the event is successful.

“We probably need between 50 and 100 volunteers ... and we really don’t have that manpower,”?Hutchinson-Talaski said. “We’re lucky to get 25.”

She said, last year, about 12,000 people attended Festival of Lights and donated $12,600, which helps pay for the rental of the fairgrounds for the event, as well as the electricity costs.

“People are very generous in this community. It’s just their time that we need,” Hutchinson-Talaski said.

For more information on how to help, contact Spike Piersol at 541-571-5065 or go to www.facebook.com/HermistonFestivalofLights.

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