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New London, Minn., Christmas display benefits Toys for Tots

New London Christmas display by Steve and Michelle Gralish benefits Toys for Tots.1 / 2
A moving Christmas carousel is among the many highlights of the Gralish Christmas display near New London.2 / 2

With more than 7,500 lights, a moving Christmas carousel, miniature train, Santa in a sleigh, antique Christmas street lights that hang over a gingerbread house and music floating through the blinking lights on trees, the rural New London yard of Steve and Michelle Gralish is a children's holiday paradise.

It's hoped that adults will also be drawn to the colorful display and bring toys that will bring Christmas to children who might not otherwise have a gift to open on Christmas morning.

For the last 15 years Steve and Michelle Gralish have been steadily adding to their outdoor Christmas display. They've been "going big" for the last six to eight years, said Steve Gralish.

"We just have fun with it," he said.

This year, besides adding new lights and handmade displays, they've also placed a large wooden toy box, guarded by two stately toy soldiers, near the entrance to the display.

Under the umbrella of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program, the Gralishes are collecting new, unwrapped toys to be distributed to children in Kandiyohi County through the Salvation Army and also in the Paynesville community through the food shelf.

This is the first year the Gralishes have added a mission to the holiday display by collecting toys. Since Michelle's father is a retired Marine, participating in the Toys for Tots campaign made sense, they said.

"We're hoping to bring a lot of toys in," said Steve Gralish.

So far only three toys have been added to the over-sized box. They hope it overflows every day with donated gifts by the Dec. 19 deadline.

"We need these toys before Christmas," said Michelle Gralish.

Plans for this year's bigger-than-ever display began last January. With lots of talent and imagination, but limited resources, the Gralishes sent letters to local businesses and individuals asking them to help sponsor the display.

Nearly 30 sponsors responded with donations of money, a motor and clear plastic for the carousel and volunteer labor and fabric to dress the toy elves.

A large wooden "card" in the yard lists the names of the sponsors.

Steve Gralish spent all winter constructing the mechanized displays and making wooden cutouts that Michelle painted. Other than the life-sized plastic ornaments, the Gralishes have handmade everything in their display.

They've invested hundreds of hours into the process.

This fall, shortly after the Gralishes removed their expansive outdoor Halloween display, a group of New London-Spicer High School students from the Peer Helper's organization spent a couple weekends helping to set up the Christmas show.

"They were wonderful," said Michelle Gralish of the students. "They were polite and enthusiastic. They were amazing kids."

Setting up the display took about 50 hours, they said.

Even though the display was just recently completed, the couple is already planning how to make it even better in 2012. They'll be seeking additional sponsors next year.

How to find it

The Gralishes outdoor Christmas Toys for Tots display can be seen at 20955 115 St. N.E., New London. It's located just off of state Highway 23, about four miles north of New London near Long Lake. Take a right off Highway 23 at 115 Street Northeast. The display is on the left side of the road.

Information about the display can also be found on Facebook at Santa's Workshop/Toys for Tots

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750