13th Rotary Winter Wonderland Season Breaks Records

Rotary Winter Wonderland finished its 13th season by breaking records for the most cash and food donations of any prior year.

“We had high hopes for the 2018 season, but the results exceeded all our expectations. The year could not have gone better,” said Al Nystrom, event organizer.

Thanks to new equipment at the zoo, Rotary was able to track attendance for the first time. A total of 19,962 vehicles and 65,238 pedestrians traveled through the display. The 58,000 food items collected from visitors throughout the season will benefit 30 area organizations.

The food donations from Rotary Winter Wonderland will hopefully last through March, said Cheryl Lewis Hartl, Soup or Socks Director. “Some things will go longer, and some we are putting on the shelves as fast as possible.”

Donations come at a time when there’s an increased demand in the community: Soup or Socks served 51% more in 2018 than the year before. “We knew we were seeing an increase, but were still surprised at the number,” Lewis Hartl said.

This season, cash donations were 25% higher than Rotary’s goal, at $78,000. The amount breaks the previous record of $74,600 in 2017. Funds will also help the food pantries after funding the project.

“We should be able to give the pantries a nice raise thanks to the generosity of our guests,” said Nystrom. A check is usually presented in the summer.

Though the season runs from the day after Thanksgiving to the end of the year, the project is a year-long effort with many helping hands.

“There is much work to be done between now and the start of our next season. We will start working this weekend on taking down the lights,” said Nystrom. “We will have work groups all summer doing repairs and building new projects for 2019.”

Tear-down will take place starting Saturday, January 5 from 8-2 p.m. at the Ludwig Building at Wildwood Zoo and continue each Saturday until the work is completed. No experience is necessary.