By JESSICA NICOSIA
For the Recorder
The 14th Annual Kristy Pollak Memorial Christmas Lights kicked off Friday night with an appearance by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus and The Grinch, despite the rainy weather. The light show, on Lyon Street in the city of Amsterdam, will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation for the second year in a row. The opening ceremonies were dedicated to Jean Shanahan, a longtime friend and employee of organizer Dave Falso who recently passed away.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus arrived on an Amsterdam fire truck at 6:30 p.m. Friday to meet children and their parents. Train and horse rides through the lights were available all night, and will be open to visitors on Saturday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and Sunday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The light show will then be open every night through Jan. 1 from 5 to 10 p.m. While there is no admission fee, donations are encouraged.
More than 50 local residents turned out to participate in the opening ceremony on Friday night, including Mayor Ann Thane and the Amsterdam High School Choir.
Thane, Falso, and representatives from the Make-A-Wish foundation all spoke after Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus arrived to welcoming songs by the Choir. A moment of silence was taken at the end of the ceremony to pray and dedicate the ceremony to Shanahan and any child suffering from a life-changing illness.
"This is what community is about," said Thane. "It's coming out no matter what the weather. No matter what the need, we respond as a community and we are so blessed in that respect."
"It's a good experience," said Joslyn Marquez, 17, who was singing with the choir. "I just rode a horse twice and I'm going to go take a picture with Santa later and the Grinch and Mrs. Claus. And we're singing awesome things and [it is] being dedicated to God. It's awesome and beautiful."
Paul Korona brought his son Tyler for horse rides and to see Santa and Mrs. Claus. Tyler said he was "excited" to see Santa Claus but was "still thinking" about what he was going to ask him for.
"This is my first year," said Karen Mucha. "My son [Frankie Perez] was singing in the choir. It was really good, I'll definitely come again next year.
"(We come) every year," said Dawn Coletti, who's son Scott Powhida works for sponsoring organization KeyBank. "Because Dave and Rosie [Falso] work so hard all year long. It's just a real family thing, it's just very, very nice. We wouldn't miss this, no matter rain, sleet, snow, or hail."
Falso, owner of Dave's Landscaping, started the fundraiser for a critically ill child named Kristy Pollak 14 years ago.
"I've been doing holiday decorating ever since I was a little kid," said Falso. "Where I used to live in my other neighborhood I always had big lighting displays and I turned that, the year she was sick, into the first fundraiser for her. Unfortunately a year later she passed away."
But Falso carried on the fundraiser in Kristy's name, forming a committee made up of community members and Kristy's family members. Every year since then, he has organized a holiday light display fundraiser for critically ill children in the community.
"My Christmas light displays started getting larger and larger in my neighborhood, which expanded to the whole street," said Falso. "So then as we outgrew the neighborhood, I bought this piece of land at an auction and I tried to recreate riding down the city street with displays and lights on both sides of the street."
"Now we're up to about 160,000 lights, there's about 80 displays in here. It's pretty impressive when this thing kicks on at night."
In the early years, the committee chose one or two local children to benefit each year. But as the need grew larger, and four or five children were applying each year, Falso said he and the committee felt they should partner with an organization that could do more. They partnered with the Make-A-Wish foundation last year, and raised 6,000 to contribute to granting the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions in the area. Make-A-Wish Northeast New York was able to sponsor ten children in Fulton and Montgomery County last year.
"The partnership is working," said Falso. "It's working and it's working well. So now we're with Make-A-Wish but the memory lives on in Kristy's name."