MUSCATINE, Iowa–In 2021, the Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department decided to try something new. For the first time ever, they invited local organizations to put up a holiday light display in Weed Park to help collect food for local pantries. The community responded positively, with nine different groups decorating spots throughout the park. “It was kind of a spur of the moment decision last year, and we were glad everyone was as excited about it as we were,” recalls Kelise Stafford, program supervisor for the parks and recreation department. This year, the Festival of Lights promises to return even bigger and better than previously.
After seeing the initial popularity of last year’s Weed Park Festival of Lights, numerous organizations in Muscatine reached out to parks and recreation about putting up a display of their own. So far, Stafford reports adding five additional spaces for groups to choose from, and that 18 groups have already signed up to decorate. With space limited, Stafford encourages anyone who would like to participate in this year’s Weed Park Festival of Lights and willing to help another organization decorate a space to contact the parks and recreation department either by email or by calling 563-263-0241. A free event for decorators to participate in, each group will create a display with a theme of their choice, so long as it remains family friendly.
From Dec. 12 through 26, including on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department will have the Weed Park Festival of Lights lit from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. People may drive through the display (located at 1 Park Drive in Muscatine) at any point during its open hours and may return as many times as they would like. With everything from lit up trees, to gazebos adorned with holiday characters, and everything in between, this year’s festival promises to appeal to people who like all sorts of different decorating styles.
When the Muscatine Parks and Recreation Department first created the event, Stafford shared they focused on, “how can we make this meet our communities needs better?”
In the spirit of giving, they decided to ask visitors to make a free will donation of non-perishable food in the drop off bins at the start of the route off Washington Street, with all of the food collected going to the Muscatine Center for Social Action’s food pantry as well as the Salvation Army of Muscatine County’s food pantry. Their idea proved highly successful. Last year, donors filled 1,400 gallons of space with the non-perishable food items they donated. Stafford hopes to collect and donate even more this year. “It just adds such a Christmas spirit,” she emphasized.
A new Muscatine tradition that continues to grow, Stafford feels excited about, “just the fact that there are going to be more displays.” With so much for visitors to enjoy, including displays from some of their favorite decorators last year as well as completely new designs, Stafford looks to see many more visitors this year and an even greater haul to send to local food pantries. “We’ve gotten overwhelming support this year,” she beamed.