Season Shorter this Year
Marshfield, WI (OnFocus) The 14th season of Rotary Winter Wonderland is set to kick off Nov. 29 with over 1.5 million lights on display.
The season starts the day after Thanksgiving and will run every evening through the end of the year at Wildwood Zoo.
“I personally think this is our best display yet,” said Danielle Nystrom, project chair.
Rotary Winter Wonderland also includes visits with Santa, live music by local artists, horse-drawn carriage rides, and an animated light show programmed by students at Marshfield High School.
The lights have become a holiday tradition for many families. “It’s fun to see the reactions of all ages,” she said. “I think it brings the holiday spirit out in everybody.”
Visitors can expect a few changes to the design, particularly with the opening of the new cougar exhibit. Around 75-100 volunteers helped set up the many strings of lights over four Saturdays, many of them youth from area high schools.
“They just rock. They’re so amazing with the setup and helping us manage some of the other volunteers, and showing people how to do things,” said Nystrom. “This project wouldn’t be possible without the younger people in our community.”
Rotary relies completely on volunteers to run the project, having no paid employees. Individuals from about 50 area organizations will man the zoo entrances to collect donations. Retired volunteer “Elves” transport the donations each week to the pantries and lend their expertise to make sure the displays are running smoothly.
There’s no admission charge to walk or drive through the zoo, but visitors are encouraged to make a cash or food donation toward the 29 area food pantries which will benefit from the project.
Marshfield Area United Way receives the peanut butter and jelly donations for its Nutrition on Weekends program, which targets childhood hunger by providing snacks to at-risk students. Enough peanut butter is collected during the season to last almost the entire school year.
While collection records were broken in 2018, the 14th season will see six fewer days than last year because of how Thanksgiving fell in the calendar. “We’re hopeful we still get just as many donations and people even though the season is shorter,” Nystrom said.
One of the pantries depending on those donations is Soup or Socks, which serves 75-100 families per month and has seen a steady need for its services after a spike in requests last year.
“I hope that people understand how much the pantry depends on this project to stock the shelves for the winter,” said Cheryl Lewis Hartl, Soup or Socks director. “With less days, I hope people donate more.”
Any nonperishable food donation is welcome, but visitors can also check with their local pantry to see which items are most needed.
“And please, please, please, check your expiration dates,” said Lewis Hartl. “It is truly heartbreaking to receive donations we cannot use because they are expired.”
To counteract any shortfall from the shorter season and maintain the impact of the project, Rotary has challenged businesses and organizations to hold their own food drives. For every 50 items collected, the organization will be entered into a drawing for a $200 pizza party.
Rotary Winter Wonderland can be enjoyed from 5-9 p.m. through December 31. The Gingerbread Jamz live music series will take place from 6-8 p.m. Monday through Sunday in the Gingerbread House. Santa is available 6-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. Horse-drawn sleigh rides will take place every Saturday except Dec. 14th.
Updates will be posted to the Rotary Winter Wonderland Facebook page.