From The Star Press
MUNCIE, Ind. — In a year when many holiday traditions were put on hold due to COVID-19, Meridian Health Services’ Holidays at Gresham drive-thru light exhibit saw record amounts of guests and donations.
The exhibit, which ran on select weekends in December, had 20,216 visitors this year, a 37% increase in traffic from last year, said Beth Clark, vice president of marketing and development at Meridian Health Services. This was the first year the light show had more than 20,000 guests in one season.
A drive thru light display at the Meridian Health Services Suzanne Gresham Center on White River Boulevard in Muncie.
In its eighth year, the light show reached its 100,000th visitor for all years combined on Dec. 11, when a mother and her two sons drove through.
“Holidays at Gresham is Meridian’s gift to the community, and this year especially was so good to have available to keep holiday cheer alive as COVID has shut down so many events,” Clark said. “People were so happy and thankful to us for continuing this family tradition.”
Knowing the virus would have a heavy impact on holiday events, the healthcare system added five new exhibits this season, bringing the total to 21. Other additions included a new strobe spotlight for people to see miles away, drive-thru archways and banners.
Twenty-four local businesses sponsored the exhibit, with Indiana Michigan Power presenting the light show.
“Holidays at Gresham is an amazing, enjoyable and heart-warming light show every year,” said Robert Keisling, community affairs manager of Indiana Michigan Power’s Muncie District. “It was especially important this year because it allowed everyone to be physically distant while they enjoyed the display in a safe manner.”
As visitor numbers grew, so did donations, Clark said, with a 60% increase in gifts received from drive-thru participants. Meridian’s previous donation record was $7,000; this year, it was able to collect $11,000.
Money raised from the event will go towards Meridian’s Suzanne Gresham Center, which provides various children and family programs. Clark said this year’s proceeds will go toward two new projects; the Gresham Garden and the Gresham Art Room.
“Both projects are regularly used by therapists at Gresham in treatment plans and one-on-one sessions to help kids navigate challenging situations and equip them with life skills,” Clark said. “With the increase in cases of anxiety and depression rising nationally during the pandemic, the services at Gresham become that much more important to children and their families.”
The cancelation of other holiday events might be the reason the drive-thru exhibit did so well, as the community looked for something festive and safe to do this holiday season, Clark said.
There also seemed to be more of an awareness of giving back and community collaboration with sponsors, Clark said.
“It was so cute as so many children would stop in their cars to wave and talk to Santa and Mrs. Claus through their car window,” Clark said. “You could just see the excitement and hear it in their voice as this was for many kids the only time to see Santa this Christmas season.”