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Omaha Holiday Lights Festival kicks off Monday; fundraiser benefits food bank
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Omaha Holiday Lights Festival kicks off Monday; fundraiser benefits food bank

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Kate and Ben Knowles use family traditions to influence the design of their home during the holidays.

Holiday lights will soon shine in the Old Market and along 24th Street as Omaha kicks off the annual Holiday Lights Festival on Monday.

Just like last year, organizers will not hold a Thanksgiving lighting ceremony. Instead, holiday lights and décor will be set up in the Old Market and surrounding streets from Monday to Jan. 3. Lights will be put up from 10th to 13th Streets between Harney and Jackson Streets. Displays will also be set up along 24th Street in North and South Omaha.

Organizers are also putting extra emphasis on the festival’s “Shine the Light on Hunger” campaign, which benefits the Food Bank for the Heartland.

Community support for the food bank is more important than ever, said Brian Barks, president and CEO of Food Bank for the Heartland.

The food bank distributed about 37 million meals last fiscal year, an 8.9 million increase from the year before, and an amount the organization didn’t expect to reach until 2028.

“The vast majority of the donated dollars we’re receiving are being spent on food purchases,” Barks said. “We’re spending $780,000 a month on food compared to $80,000 before the pandemic.”

The fundraising campaign led by the Conagra Brands Foundation began Wednesday and runs until Dec. 31. Nonperishable food items can be donated at collection barrels located around Omaha, including in Baker’s Supermarkets. Monetary donations can be made online at FoodBankHeartland.org.

This year’s goal is to provide 2 million meals, said Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. Conagra will match all funds up to $100,000. Baker’s Supermarkets will contribute $20,000 to the cause.

Other ways to contribute to the campaign include:

» Feed special holiday parking meters found on sidewalks near businesses. Locations of the meters, which are white, can be found at holidaylightsfestival.org.

» Drop off nonperishable food items at select community organizations and businesses or during the Family Festival on Dec. 5.

With COVID safety precautions in mind, many of this year’s events will be socially distanced, including a drive-thru family festival at the Omaha Police Department’s mounted patrol barn and the New Year’s Eve fireworks show.

Spectators can watch New Year’s Eve fireworks from their own vehicles. Free parking is available in Lots A, B and C near the CHI Health Center and in Gallup parking lots. Lots open at 6 p.m., and viewers can tune into STAR 104.5 to hear the music.

The Family Festival, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 5, will be set up as a drive-thru at the police mounted patrol barn at 615 Leavenworth St. Families can pick up craft kits, see holiday characters and meet police horses.

Now in its 22nd year, the Festival of Lights began in 1999 after a coalition of city officials, corporations and foundations chose to present a gift of holiday lights to the City of Omaha. That initial year the celebration was called the Millennium Lights.

More than 60,000 people came downtown to witness the lighting ceremony.

The Downtown Omaha Inc. Foundation was established the following year to continue Millennium Lights as the annual Holiday Lights Festival.


jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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Jessica Wade covers breaking news, crime and the Omaha zoo. Follow her on Twitter @Jess_Wade_OWH. Phone: 402-444-1067

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