(From left) Mark Caillier, Jeremiah Ratliff and Brigett Eisle present a check for $23,424.77 to Rick Gaupo on Feb. 18. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

(From left) Mark Caillier, Jeremiah Ratliff and Brigett Eisle present a check for $23,424.77 to Rick Gaupo on Feb. 18. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

When it comes to a big event like the Keizer Miracle of Christmas Lights Display held each December in the Gubser neighborhood, there are things that can point to growth.

On busy nights the line of vehicles waiting to start the route of Christmas lights can stretch to Lockhaven Drive.

Another sign of growth deals with the food donation aspect of the event. After all, the event is a fundraiser for Marion-Polk Food Share, with canned food and cash donations accepted throughout the three-week run. Volunteers sign up to help with the collection every night.

Brigett Eisle, who has run the event the last few years with husband Mike, revealed some numbers from the 2015 event at the Feb. 18 Greater Gubser Neighborhood Association meeting. Rick Gaupo, president and CEO of the Food Share, was also on hand.

Eisle counted and found more than two-thirds of houses along the route were lit up.

“We had waiting lists of people wanting to participate and help out,” she said. “We had to turn away 10 groups this year that wanted to help. We had so many people, we had a waiting list. If people can see what we’re doing, it just brings the community together even more.”

Another way Eisle knows the event is growing? She’s having to buy more candy canes to pass out every year.

“We spent close to $1,000 for 23,000 candy canes,” she said. “It’s fine to do that, but that’s $1,000 we don’t get to give to the food bank. We’re going to really explore options to get those donated or to get a business sponsor to pay for those. When we first took it over, we bought 11,000 candy canes the first year. We ended up having to buy more, but it wasn’t 10,000 more. It’s growing and growing.

“The other thing that tells us it’s growing is the check donation, which this year is for $23,424.77,” Eisle added. “That’s the largest cash donation that we’ve done.”

Eisle noted the 20,539 pounds of food collected this year was more than 4,000 pounds off of last year’s total. However, the cash collected the previous year was $21,837.

Eisle presented the oversized check to Gaupo with assistance from 12-year-old volunteer Jeremiah Ratliff and GGNA president Mark Caillier.

Gaupo was thankful.

“First of all, just a huge thanks to you and the community,” he said. “The combined total for the life of this event is more than $300,00 and more than 300,000 pounds of food.”

Gaupo called the Miracle of Christmas the largest of its kind.

“I’m so into family and the community and the impact we can have together,” he said. “This food drive is the biggest community-based food drive we have, hands down. That is huge. What’s super impressive is the longevity of it. I love the (events) that are big and flashy. But I would give that up every single day for something that is sustained, community building and impactful. That is what this food drive does better than any other food drive I know of.”

Gaupo referred to audience member Curt McCormack as the backbone of the Keizer Community Food Bank.

“It’s such a great partnership,” Gaupo said. “Families come twice a week and get food assistance. That food wouldn’t be there without the Marion-Polk Food Share and Marion-Polk Food Share wouldn’t be there without food drives and campaigns like this. I never think of the Marion-Polk Food Share as an agent of change, I think of it as a conduit of change. You’re the agent of change. You gave us $24,000 for food. We give it to the Keizer Community Food Bank to give to the community.”

Gaupo emphasized the MPFS uses what is given to it.

“We’re not going to hoard the money,” Gaupo said. “There’s no reason to hoard it. It doesn’t go into a vacuum. It goes right back into the community, the Keizer Community Food Bank and into community gardens. It all would not be possible without the community members. I’m so impressed with what you do.”