River Lights looks to build on successes with in-kind help from the town


By Ron Giofu

Amherstburg town council heaped praise on organizers of the River Lights winter festival and pledged in-kind support to help it grow further in the future.

River Lights administrator Karen Gyorgy and volunteer committee chair Rennie Rota appeared before town council Monday night where they went over how the 2012-13 festival did and what they hoped for in the future.

Gyorgy told council that approximately 22,600 people participated in River Lights between Nov. 16 and Jan. 7. There were eight special winter community programs during the festival. Six non-profit organizations were partnered with and two local high schools taking part as well. She stated the festival provided employment for 12 local, multimedia artists with five local contractors being hired for logistic services.

“River Lights distributed 65 gingerbread house kits to local charity services for the gingerbread contest,” said Gyorgy, who remarked that “eyes lit up” when the kits were delivered.

“I think of all the things we did, it touched the hearts of so many,” she added.

A total of 532 non perishable items were collected for area food banks during “Skate with Santa” public skates held at the United Communities Credit Union (UCCU) Complex, said Gyorgy, with 4,800 cups of free hot chocolate distributed to the public at the warming house.

“Many folks reported appreciating the olde fashioned ‘family time’ outing to Amherstburg,” stated Gyorgy.

In 2012, Gyorgy added that River Lights purchased over $9,000 worth of product from local businesses including paint, lights, displays, hot chocolate, food, and hardware. She added River Lights “is self sustaining each and every year through sponsorships, donations and fundraising generating over $40,000 per year to keep the programs viable and thriving.

“River Lights is very inclusive to all of the community and we do all of the fundraising ourselves,” said Gyorgy.

Rota noted the River Lights committee is collaborating with the Essex Region Conservation Foundation (ERCF), the fundraising arm of ERCA, to hold the Super Santa Run again this year. That event is scheduled for Saturday, November 16. Gyorgy pointed out River Lights also hopes to take over the Christmas House Tour event from Christ Anglican Church as she has met with Rev. Bill Strang about passing control of the event to River Lights.

“It’s a perfect fit for River Lights,” she added.

Town Logo Small-webRiver Lights is a sub-committee of the Amherstburg Chamber of Commerce (ACOC), said Rota, who compared it to being a partnership that allows River Lights such things as access to grants and the Chamber’s insurance coverage.

“The Chamber recognizes we are an economic driver for the community,” he said.

Timberwolf Forest Products have donated two trailers and help store the displays during the off-season, he noted.

Rota said River Lights has “been quite mindful of taxpayers’ dollars” but noted other winter festivals in surrounding towns and cities have been integrated either partially or fully with their respective municipalities. He said town assistance is necessary particularly during set up and take down of the festival and requested the festival be in the recreation and culture department’s scheduling of manpower during those weeks.

Volunteers are getting older, he said, and the festival needs to know there is a committed group that can help during those periods.

“We need to know we have the manpower to support us,” said Rota.

That request was echoed in a letter sent to the town by committee member Mark Usher, who also requested a power upgrade to Toddy Jones Park. That request was referred to budget.

“As many of you may or may not know the power grid in Toddy Jones Park is at its maximum.  Last year just plugging in an electric chain saw to carve ice sculptures blew all the lights in the park and the warming house,” wrote Usher. “We would like to ask council to please consider upgrading the power grid in Toddy Jones Park to allow us to make River Lights even better. This upgrade would allow us to light the walkway through the park with displays and put another gate at the northeast entrance to Toddy Jones.”

Councillor John Sutton said the work done by River Lights and its volunteers does not go unnoticed.

“You guys do great work. It’s volunteers that drive this event and all the events in town,” Sutton told the delegation. “It puts Amherstburg on the map and shows the best side of us.”

Sutton voiced support for assisting the festival with in-kind help.

“Every year it’s become a snow ball of success,” continued Councillor Carolyn Davies.

Davies praised the co-operation with the Chamber of Commerce and said she supports the town offering assistance to River Lights.

“Amherstburg is a buzzword,” added Councillor Bob Pillon, noting he knows people that come to town for festivals such as River Lights.

“I personally thank you and keep up the good work,” Pillon told Rota and Gyorgy. “We will be there to support you.”

Councillor Diane Pouget and Deputy Mayor Ron Sutherland also had kind words for the River Lights.

“I want to extend my congratulations to you as well,” said Sutherland.

Noting that “you can’t say enough” about the works of River Lights, Councillor Bart DiPasquale offered his thanks as well.

“What you people are doing, please keep doing it,” said DiPasquale. “You are doing a great job and we support you.”

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