A Million Dollar Moment

This past Saturday, Luminaira Night, a charitable event which I co-founded 22 years ago, hit a milestone.  We passed the $1,000,000 mark raised for our charity of choice, New Bethany Ministries. It was a thrilling moment, and even though I detest the overuse of this word, it was surreal.  I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the event and one of our volunteers and the person who’s donations put us over the top, asked me to write down my remarks someplace.  ” It’s important”, she said.  So here is a little background about Luminaria Night along with my comments from Saturday.

22 years ago, over a cup of tea, myself and two of my friends were lamenting about how we didn’t know our neighbors.  One of the other ladies said “hey, we used to do this thing in Cincinnati with white bags and candles and sand, we sold them and donated the money to charity, and then we all walked around on that night and talked to our neighbors”.  Sounded like a plan, so we forged ahead with it.  We wrote a letter, stuffed it in mailboxes (in later years, we got in some hot water with our post persons over this) and went out and bought candles, bags and sand.  We lit up a few houses and raised $300.  The story of the growth of LN is a long one, so I will just fast forward and say we grew and grew and grew!!  Last year, we lit up over 3,500 homes and businesses and raised over $100,000.  This year we hope to hit the 4,000?$135,000 mark.  But the most amazing number is that in the 16 years we have been affiliated with New Bethany Ministries, we have raised (as of Saturday), over $1,000,000 for them.  Here’s what I said about that-

Yes, $1,000,000 is a big number, but the way got here is really what makes it so fantastic.  We do not have corporate sponsorship or donations, with a few exceptions of in kind donations of space to make our kits and sand.  Our donations, which come in the cost of kits and any additional donation the purchasers would like to make, come from individuals and start at the $10 level.  That’s a lot of small donations to add up to $1,000,000!

I think there are three reasons LN has been able to be so successful –

It’s beautiful, truly beautiful.  We like to say it’s an “enchanted ” evening.  The beauty of a simple white bag, candle and sand- one after another after another (we will hit 100,000 this year) is really something to see.  Knowing so many people come together on the same night to so the same thing to benefit others makes it even more beautiful.

Our volunteers- We are held together by a small army of volunteers that are held together by a few people.  The team at New Bethany Ministries does an incredible job with all of our paperwork and getting it ready for distribution- copying, collating, counting what is a small mountain of paperwork.  We are backed up by Tina, the comptroller of NBM, who, I am happy to say, recorded the very first dollar we donated to them, and who recorded the millionth.

Our team makes it very easy for people to participate, honoring even the most difficult request, and putting in a full time jobs’ worth of hours for many weeks before the actual event.  On our team, we have Debbie and Carol- Debbie is, and always has been, in charge of our “regional and block captains”.  Her organizational skills and attention to detail are remarkable, these “captains” (we have over 350 now) are given every tool they need to recruit neighbors to participate in the simplest way.  Carol is our volunteer coordinator, making sure the small army of mostly high school students assembling kits is happy and actually working- no small task when dealing with students!!  She is tireless in her quest for perfection, carefully checking all boxes to make sure they are neat and ready to go to our captains!

The “army” of volunteers we always refer to includes, of course the heart of our team, the Regional and Block Captains- who distribute forms, collect orders and $$ and then pick up the Luminaria kits for distribution to their neighbors.

New Bethany Ministries- Several weeks ago, a board colleague of mine said something about the people we serve and the services we provide at NBM that stuck with me and went straight to the heart of why we support this amazing organization.  I’m paraphrasing here.  He said, in reference to providing Thanksgiving dinners to our clients, “when we are providing this to the people we serve, we are giving them the ability to be the same as everybody else”.  Much of the time, the poor, the homeless, the hungry are different, and these differences are obvious.  When we provide the ability to be the same, we are really providing dignity.  At NBM, showers, washers and dryers and the ability to “choose” what food a family eats (ours is a food choice pantry, where our clients can decide what foods to provide their families, instead of just being given food- this one service alone is extraordinary in the Lehigh Valley), a community room with computers and services to help prepare those we serve to enter, or re-enter the work force, the list goes on.  I have been on site at NBM many times over the last 22 years, I know the staff, I see the clients, and I can tell  you with certainty, I’ve never seen this level of dignity provided with such grace and kindness.

While LN is beautiful and we know we have an amazing team, and an amazing process, the heart of why we have been able to not only survive, but grow to this level, is New Bethany Ministries, – our participants want to “be the light in your neighbor’s darkest hour”, and $1,000,000 later, they certainly have been!!!

Many thanks to Ellen, who turned in the block captain $ that put us over this remarkable number, and who insisted I write this remarks down.

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