WILLMAR — 2020 was a year full of challenges and heartache, but there were also glimmers of hope and heart. One such example was the Celebrate the Light of the World holiday light display at Robbins Island Regional Park in Willmar.

After uncertainties brought on by COVID-19, construction and weather, Willmar Fests and its army of volunteers were able to achieve a successful display that at the end of the holiday season resulted in a late Christmas gift to four local charities.

The Kandiyohi County Food Shelf, the Willmar Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity of West Central Minnesota and the United Way of West Central Minnesota will each be receiving a $29,360 check from Willmar Fests, for a total of $117,440. The funds were all from freewill donations given by visitors to the drive-thru light display between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day.

"For a year ravaged by COVID, we live in a doggone generous community," said Jon Schmidt, vice president of the Willmar Fests board of directors and chair of the Celebrate the Light of the World Committee. "We live in a generous state."

Schmidt said he didn't know whether more people visited the display than last year, or if the donations were larger, but the end result was a huge increase in total donations over the 2019 total of $75,000.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"A lot of folks were out for the very first time," Schmidt said.

Every dollar of the $117,440 raised at the light display will be going to the four local charities and be used to help people in and around Kandiyohi County, Schmidt said.

Now that the holiday season is over, the dismantlement of the display will take place in two phases, Schmidt said. The first will happen at the end of January, beginning of February. The rest of the display will be removed once the ground thaws, probably in March.

Schmidt said despite the challenges 2020 brought, including construction at Robbins Island, the light committee was dedicated to putting on the display.

"We needed something bright and shiny," Schmidt said.

Even as the lights go down, planning has already started for the 2021 display. Generous sponsorships from area businesses and individuals will make it possible for Willmar Fests to add to the display and continue offering the holiday experience.

"We've been planning for next year for a good three months," Schmidt said.