Just a few days after launching a GoFundMe to help fund the annual Greenpoint Holiday Lights, organizers Bess White and Nick Giannios exceeded their goal of $20,000. Both organizers say they are indebted to each other and their neighbors for the quick success.

Giannios, who initially fundraised for the Greenpoint Lights by soliciting local businesses, was connected to White last year, when White reached out to Joe Lentol’s office to make an individual donation to the project, which she didn’t realize was supported by local businesses. This year, knowing independent businesses were struggling, she partnered with Giannios to crowd fund.

“Neither of us would have dreamed it would be so successful, so quickly,” White said. Giannios had never used the platform before, and was just hoping that some amount of donations would come in before the bills are due in December, but he was “floored at the speed in which we met the $20K goal,” he says.

The holiday display on Manhattan Avenue in 2018.

Knowing businesses and families are struggling financially, Giannios had hesitations about asking people for money to use on the annual light display. Instead, he decided to prioritize larger donors, like Sonny Mooks and family, Broadway Stages, Greenpoint Vision Care, and C Town. The hope was that at least a third of prior years’ funds would be raised, and a scaled down version of the lights would be possible.

“Greenpoint financial demographics vary, so I wasn’t sure what we would raise,” Giannios says. “Thanks to some big donations  and a whole lot of  smaller ones, we met our goal.” Donors from past years have also promised to contribute, to illuminate the neighborhood come winter.

“Lights remove the darkness. They shed light on everything. Eyes are open when the light is present,” Giannios says of his spiritual connection to the light display. He also notes that nostalgia, holiday spirit and neighborhood pride are important to him. He’s been working on Manhattan Avenue since age 14, staffing his family’s floral shop on Black Friday 1981. He sees the lights as “welcoming” to neighbors and visitors.

The holiday lights as seen at Manhattan and Nassau avenues in 2019.

“The holiday lights provide Greenpoint with good cheer during the darkest time of the year, every year,” White adds. “The lights are public, they are something that all neighbors can enjoy regardless of age, background or income level.  They are for everyone.” While we spend more time than ever outside this year, the lights can be enjoyed by many at a safe social distance, something White’s family looks forward to every year when they visit. “The lights remind them of their childhoods in a small town,” she says. “In many ways, Greenpoint is a small town. Finally, having Manhattan Avenue dark this winter, after all we’ve been through this year, would simply be depressing!”

The money raised will go directly to installation, upkeep, and removal of the lights. A large crew is needed to assemble and take down the display, as well as change the bulbs, when necessary. The signature “Welcome to Greenpoint ” signs cost $2950, including annual storage and repairs. The LED snowflake strands are $1150  each, and a dozen new LED vertical lights will be added this year. Add in the cost of electricity, and the bills add up quickly. Typically, $40,000 is needed to fund the entire cost of the lights, and White is hoping national chains and organizations will also offer to sponsor stands of lights.

Those eager to see the display can also look forward to some new features. This year, the lights won’t stop at Huron Street, but run all the way down to Box Street, thanks to a generous donation by Lincoln Market. Looking back, Giannios feels like not extending the lights in prior years was a disservice, and unintentionally left people out. If people continue to donate, the brighter Greenpoint will be.

“I want Greenpoint to have a joy-filled season, that will remove the darkness of Covid,” Giannios says.
 

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