ELYRIA — Families grateful for warm clothes and books, small tykes shivering in the cold waiting to give their “wish lists” to Santa, and residents happy for a local home for the arts.
They were all part of the 2013 Festival of Lights celebration Saturday that brought hundreds of adults and children downtown to officially usher in the holiday season with a petting zoo, the official Christmas lighting of Ely Square, Santa’s arrival, and other events that included a church giveaway of coats, scarves, hats and gloves.
Small fry and adorable animals are a can’t-lose proposition, as evidenced by the steady stream of
visitors to an enclosure on Ely Square through which children and adults kept a steady supply of sliced carrots going through the fence to the assortment of sheep, deer, an alpaca, pygmy goats and a horned yak, which many mistook for a small steer.
“They just loved it,” Danielle Lawhorn said as her son, Michael, 6, and daughter, Hayle, 4, excitedly moved around the enclosure to pet and feed the animals.
“Come on, Mommy, its cold,” a bundled-up Hayle insisted a short time later.
Lawhorn, who was pushing a stroller with her nearly 1-year-old daughter, Katherine, inside, agreed.
“I think we’re going to go inside for the crafts and movie,” Lawhorn said, referring to the several crowded tables of kid-centric holiday craft projects as well as the screening of holiday-themed movies in the City Council chambers in Elyria City Hall.
That wasn’t all that was going on inside city hall, where Grace Community Church volunteers manned tables and racks of donated coats, sweaters, hats, scarves and gloves that were handed out — much sooner than they had anticipated. The giveaway was set for 2 to 6 p.m. inside City Hall, but most of the clothing was gone by shortly after 2.
“We were setting up about noon and people were already here, so we decided to go ahead,” Jim Thornton, Grace Community Church’s assistant pastor, said.
Clothing that had been collected since October disappeared quickly in the inaugural giveaway, as appreciative families selected items.
“We had one little girl who found a jacket that fit her better than the one she was wearing, so she took it off and donated it,” Thornton said.
Eric Schibley was among those who praised the day-long event for its multifaceted approach to get residents to come together to spend some time downtown.
“It’s really nice that the city is offering events like this,” Schibley said. “It’s important to support the city and let it know we value this.”
A counselor with the Strongsville Schools, Schibley grew up in the nearby Eastern Heights neighborhood.
“They love the reindeer,” Jennifer Schibley said of the couple’s three children’s enjoyment of the petting zoo. “It reminds them of what the season is about.”
Fellow Elyrian Elysia Kasden agreed the festival is a good way to bring the community together.
“This speaks really well for the community by encouraging people to help each other,” Kasden said minutes after her own children filled small bags with books and comics that were part of an afternoon-long “Mayor’s Storybook Giveaway.”
“They got everything from ‘Little Pony’ to zombies,” Kasden said with a laugh.
A short distance away at the new Elyria Arts Depot, Cindy and George Hasko intently surveyed a display of pottery, as well as a variety of paintings at the new gallery, which opened Saturday in the former Brandau Jewelry building.
“I’m loving it,” Cindy Hasko said. “It’s a great space, airy and light…and I love to have art in Elyria. I was always going to Oberlin or Vermilion before. Now I can just come downtown.”
Artist Anna Carapucci, who paints as Anna Grace, talked about the gallery as she stood near her display of portraiture, and animal artwork of a red fox, a Red Poll (bird), zebras and koalas.
“I had never met some of the other local artists” prior to the gallery’s formation, Carapucci said.
“I was so impressed with the artists and their work.”
While the Lorain Arts Council-sponsored gallery may or may not become a permanent home of the Elyria Arts Depot, Carapucci hopes to be able to showcase more of her wildlife paintings there.
“I see it as a beginning of what can be,” Hasko said.
As dusk descended on Ely Square, the crowd swelled to its largest size with parents and children shivering in low-20s temperatures waiting for the big arrival of Santa, who showed up standing in a dune buggy leading a convoy of brightly lit emergency vehicles.
“How did he get here without the reindeer?” a puzzled Tamar Miller, 5, asked his mom, Tiara Miller, as they stood in line to see Santa inside a small red building on Ely Square.
“He came in a plane,” Tiara Miller answered quickly, with a “They ask everything, don’t they?” aside to a visiting reporter.
Asked what she thought her son would ask Santa for, Miller said, “Probably an Xbox.”
A short time later, Tamar surprised her when he answered, “A remote-control helicopter.”
A few steps closer to the Santa building, Aedyn Manney, 5, quickly said she’s asking St. Nick for a
“Princess House with all the Princess dolls.”
“Plus Tinker Bell and all the other fairies,” mother Katie Manney quietly added.
Moments before the crowd enthusiastically shouted the countdown to throw the switch and illuminate the square in vivid red, green, blue and white lights, Mayor Holly Brinda told them, “See what can happen when people come together for a good cause?”
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or email@example.com.