The gift of light

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Resiliency Project coordinates solstice celebration

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  • Courtesy
    Courtesy
  • Sam Liebl
    Sam Liebl
  • Courtesy GAC
    Courtesy GAC
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    Courtesy
  • Kelsey Loftis
    Kelsey Loftis

The Resiliency Project orchestrated a mass community lighting of luminarias to usher in the winter solstice on Monday. Kits were sold over the last month containing paper bags, sand and votive candles that were lit in a ceremonial moment of togetherness.

In conjunction with the winter solstice, a rare celestial event occurred. The convergence of Jupiter and Saturn appeared as one to the naked eye, creating a “Christmas Star” in the sky.

City of Gunnison Parks and Recreation Supervisor Ginny Baylor said more than 8,000 twinkling lanterns were distributed between Gunnison and Crested Butte as part of the project’s “Give Light” initiative. The figures came as a huge surprise to organizers, far surpassing their initial estimates.

The creative outreach was another effort on the Resiliency Project’s agenda to foster a more resilient community by bringing joy, creating social ties and offering opportunities for socially-distanced connectivity. The project was formed at the onset of the pandemic and has spurred the creation of yard signs, celebratory banners for high school seniors, wellness challenges for homebound individuals and summer music cruises featuring local acts.

Lining Spencer Avenue starting at Vulcan Street, organizers placed bags along the street, concentrating most of the lanterns in CharMar park in a maze formation.

The evening was exactly what Baylor had envisioned.

“CharMar was buzzing with walkers and families in cars shouting their gratitudes and solstice well wishes to us ‘City of Gunnison folks’ who were setting up luminarias,” she said. “What a beautiful evening for the Gunnison Valley to celebrate our blessings and the holidays.”

Other community members, including businesses on Main Street in Gunnison, lit lanterns at the same time. A few individual purchasers bought bags and donated them back to The Resiliency Project, some of which were included in the CharMar display.

The Resiliency Project “didn’t make any money on this,” said organizer Maryo Ewell. “It was really important to us that these could be afforded by almost anybody, which is why we sold them at $2 for 10 bags, which allowed us to purchase the bags and votives, and Parks and Rec provided the sand.”

Ewell said the purpose of the initiative was to encourage random acts of kindness between neighbors and perfect strangers and to reflect on what being in a “connected community feels like.”

The Resiliency Project donated more than 800 luminarias to teachers, pandemic volunteers and other “community heroes to thank them for their efforts and dedication to our valley,” said Baylor.

Kelsey Loftis of Gunnison placed the largest order, requesting 600 kits.

“I was honestly looking for a way to give back to our community7 said Loftis. “We ordered 600 so that we could reach out to 300 houses. Our family drove and delivered two per house around Gunnison so that one could be shared with a friend.”

“It was heartwarming to see the participation, generosity and caring shared by so many up and down the Gunnison Valley through luminaria light displays,” said Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley’s Executive Director Lauren Kugler. “This ‘give light’ night was a bright spot for anyone and everyone during a challenging year.”

“Our neighborhood put out their lights, and we watched the stars and drank hot cocoa and chatted — distanced, of course,” said Pam Montgomery, who lives west of town in the Curecanti Townhomes. “It was such a meaningful and joyous way to connect.”

(Morgan Schaefer can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or morgan@gunnisontimes.com.)