By Valerie Shelton, Editor
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
While the weather outside in Clovis isn’t particularly frightful, the one sure sign that the holiday season is upon us is that the decorations are starting to go up. Already, weeks ahead of Thanksgiving, local families are hard at work hanging Christmas lights. One Clovis couple, however, has taken Christmas lights to a whole new level.
Deb and Terry Toews have been planning this year’s Christmas display since last Christmas. The whopping 50,000 dancing LED lights they had on their home last year just didn’t cut it, even with the next door neighbor joining in. While their house was an attraction for many locals who enjoyed stopping by and tuning in to their station, 98.5, to watch the lights dance to the music, the Toewses felt their décor no longer had the pizzazz it once did. So, the question became, add even more lights to their home or get some more neighbors involved?
The choice was obvious. Deb had seen the YouTube videos of a Bay area neighborhood in which 24 houses synched lights together to put on quite a light show and she thought, why not try that in Clovis? To her and her husband’s surprise more than just a couple neighbors got on board with the idea—all 16 homes on the block signed on to participate.
“There are 16 houses on our block and we invited the other 15 homeowners to come to a meeting thinking we would get three or four,” Terry said. “By the end of the meeting we had eight saying ‘yes, we’ll do it’ and four more said they would think about it. Within three weeks, we had everybody on board wanting to do it and that was the end of January. We had just come off of the Christmas season and already having to make decisions for this year.”
The rush was on from there—by the end of February all the neighbors had to have their plans in place and their commercial grade LED lights ordered so the group could get a bulk discount. The lights weren’t the only expense the neighbors had to pitch in for either. Even more expensive are the computer controllers needed to program different strands of lights so that they move to the music. Each controller costs between $200 and $250 and powers 16 strands of lights. The Toewses have 16 controllers in their yard alone.
Given the expense, the Toewses decided it would be best to create a non-profit so businesses would have a tax incentive to make donations to the project.
“It was Terry’s idea to start the non-profit and it was driven toward trying to help us get sponsors because it is expensive to do this,” Deb said. “This year him and I personally put over $4,000 into our system, not to mention advertising and insurance and all the other stuff. Right now we’re over $10,000 in and still have bills to pay so the idea was, if we’re a non-profit it allows us the ability to get sponsors to help underwrite some of the expense and then the businesses who donate get a write off.”
Deb filled out all the paperwork to get the non-profit status in March, knowing that it could take six months to gain approval. It was a tedious process, she said, but she and Terry were very clear about their mission and knew it had to be done. Luckily, not only did their non-profit, Clovis Festival of Lights, get approved, but it was approved within one month.
“Our mission is to provide a free Christmas light show to the community,” Deb said. “The second thing is getting the cash donations that we get are going to go to the church food bank at Faith Community Church of the Nazarene, west of downtown Clovis on Peach Avenue. We’ve been going there for 10 years. They started their food pantry with Fresno County five years ago and we try to give a little bit every year. Last year, people gave us money after watching our light show and we wondered what we were going to do with it. Not even trying, we collected $250 and we gave it to the food pantry.”
Deb said they felt moved to give back to the food pantry because they can’t bear the thought of people going hungry around the holidays.
“I’m a nurse and most of my work has been in home health and community health and it is just appalling to me that we have people in our own community who don’t have enough food to eat,” Deb said. “I know many times when I cooked Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner, I would bring extra to my patients and I brought diapers for babies and stuff. There are many times at church where they’ve said, we have enough food for 300 people but we had to turn people away.”
Terry and Deb have committed to donating at least $500 to the food pantry and if the community’s donations exceed that amount, they will discuss with the board, which consists of seven neighbors in the community, what to do with the rest.
In addition to accepting donations, the neighborhood which is now being hailed as Santa Claus Lane, will have concession stands on walk nights, which are Friday and Saturday nights starting with the grand opening night on Nov. 27. Concessions will include hot dogs, pizza, chips, soda, water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, cookies and cupcakes. All the profits made from concessions will go directly toward funding the lights and equipment so Santa Claus Lane can continue to expand and get bigger and better every year.
The show itself, which will run from Nov. 27 through New Year’s Eve, will be an hour long with the lights dancing to 16 songs, all programmed by Deb. While Terry takes 40-plus man hours to hang the lights with help from the neighbors, it takes Deb 10 to 15 hours to program each three minute song. Although time consuming, the result is something they hope the community will enjoy.
Already, the Toewes expect to attract big crowds with the Santa Claus Lane show.
“A few weeks ago, we put an invite on Facebook for opening night and we have over 600 who have said they are going and another 300 interested and another 400 that haven’t said one way or the other and the invites keep on growing as people invite other people,” Terry said. “That is just for opening night.”
It’s a Christmas light frenzy—they said—that has been catching on in the Valley for the last several years. Every year, Christmas Tree Lane in Fresno gets more and more visitors and likewise, Cindy Lane in Clovis has attracted more people in the past few years. Now, the Toewses expect their Santa Claus Lane to be a new holiday hotspot.
In addition to an animated light show and concessions on walk nights, the Clovis Festival of Lights will also be holding an Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest from Dec. 11 through Dec. 20. Those who wear an ugly sweater on one of those nights can take a photo near a sign on the Toewses property and upload it to the Santa Claus Lane Facebook page and the photo to get the most likes will win a $50 gift card to Yosemite Falls Café in Clovis, a $50 gift card to Sierra Vista Cinemas and a $15 gift card to Cold Stone. Two runner-ups will receive a coupon book.
The grand opening of Santa Claus Lane is Nov. 27—the day after Thanksgiving—beginning at 5 p.m. in the 3100 Block of Indianapolis in Clovis (cross streets Gettysburg and Locan). Shows start daily at 5:30 p.m. through New Year’s Eve. To hear the music, tune your car radio to 98.5. Concessions on Friday and Saturday walk nights open at 5:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.ClovisFestivalofLights.org or the Santa Claus Lane Facebook page.