lights raise money for food bankTwo neighboring families are using the power of a Christmas light display to feed a lot of hungry people in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Not only has the Severns-Pease Christmas Display become a local must-see home, but since 2002 the neighbors on Tangerine Way in Sunnyvale have sought to collect canned food or cash donations from spectators to benefit the area’s Second Harvest Food Bank.

This year’s goal is to raise $80,000 – and it looks like they’re going to make it.

The popular holiday exhibit is so big it covers the house, roof and yard of the Severns’ home, and the adjacent house and yard of the Pease family.

“It’s always a work in progress, so what you saw in years ago doesn’t resemble what you see now,” said Dave Severns, a retired engineer who is the creative force behind the display.

With “snow” blowing from near an automated Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer perched atop Severns’ garage, to cute audible joking elves, to the 88,000 lights choreographed to rousing music, the display captivates both kids and adults alike.

The first year that donations were collected, the families garnered $8,000. Steadily each year the amount has increased.

“Even in the economic downturn, we continued to do better than the previous year, which really surprised me,” he said. Last year the display took in more than $54,000.

Severns installs holiday lights in SF -- goodneighborstories photoThe inspiring project not only has the charity component, but also a  forward-thinking, environmentally-sustainable foundation. The cost to power all those lights? Zero. Severns installed solar panels years ago. A switch to more LED lights in recent years has dramatically reduced energy usage.

Green, yes, but Severns is also competitive. He is determined to meet the $80,000 goal, especially after he found out that if they indeed raise that amount, the Christmas display will become a member of Second Harvest’s “Million Pound Club”, an honor usually bestowed on large corporations sponsoring massive food drives.

On opening night, November 27, the site collected more than $21,000. During week one, another $15,500 was donated.

Severns enjoys brightening the holidays for children and adults, as well as helping to feed the hungry people locally.

“In general it’s been super-gratifying,” he said.

This master of holiday cheer doesn’t bother keeping track of how many hours he puts into designing, setting up, maintaining and disassembling the display each year. He and neighbor Andy Pease start installing the display on November 1. 12-hour days are spent in preparation for the opening on Thanksgiving weekend. The display runs through January 1, 5:30 to 11 p.m. every night. It takes about a week to take it down. Severns said they spend about $2,500 per house each year, if needed, on new lights and materials.

Pam Marino is founder of where the original story was first published. (Additional editing by Good News Network)

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