LARGO, Fla. — It was 28 years ago when a Largo man asked a couple of his neighbors to decorate their homes for Christmas as a way to raise money for his favorite nonprofit organization.
This year, more than 500 homes are participating in the Lights of Lake Park and they are about to achieve a major milestone, $1 million raised for Suncoast Hospice.
“The lights bring our neighbors together in our community,” said organizer Amy Maltinos, of Lake Park Estates.
The tradition dates back to 1992 with Ruby and Eddie Dow. Ruby was very sick and wanted to spend her final days at home.
“With hospice help, she was able to come home and her husband was so moved by all of the Suncoast nurses that he decided after she passed away that he wanted to do something in return,” said Maltinos.
During that 1993 inaugural year, the display was mostly limited to one street. It’s now three miles long.
“Eddie sat out every single night and Eddie collected,” said Maltinos. “We are a better community because of him.”
Then in 2007, Eddie passed away. It was now up to the neighborhood as a whole to keep the tradition shining bright.
“He was able to get his neighbors together and make an impact that is still continuing to this day, 13 years after he has passed away,” said Maltinos.
Suncoast Hospice says the Lights of Lake Park is the perfect fundraiser for their nonprofit organization, which provides care to over 4,000 people a day.
“Hospice is about leaving a legacy and I really believe Eddie wanted to leave a beautiful legacy for his wife in addition to honoring us with the care of her,” said Rafael Sciullo, President and CEO of Empath Health, which oversees Suncoast Hospice.
These neighbors say what’s extra magical about their longevity, is that the display has become generational.
“People will come from all over to see the lights, and they’ll say that they’ve been coming year after year, and now they are bringing their kids,” said Maltinos.
The Lights of Lake Park shine every night from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. The last night is New Year's Eve.
For more information go to LightsOfLakePark.com.