The Howard Beach Columbus Day Foundation has gained much notoriety from the community for hosting the annual Columbus Day Parade and also for bringing holiday lighting to Crossbay Boulevard for the first time in the history of the commercial strip.
Beginning in 2006, the Foundation spent over $42,000 when it draped the boulevard in lights, erected a 30-foot tree at Starbucks and lit almost 50 trees along the center median. In 2007, for the Second Annual lighting the Foundation hoisted a 40 ft tree and lit the center median with 32 trees spending approximately $33,000. The tree was wrapped in close to 4,000 multicolored bulbs and dressed with jumbo assorted ornaments. The Foundation also hosted a Christmas Show both years, featuring entertainment that included performances by local talent.
But this year , President Mario Faulisi says the Foundation will be limited to lighting the trees along the center median but they will not erect a big tree or host a Christmas show. “Over the past couple of weeks, we have received many calls from people in the community asking about our plans to light this year’s tree. For that reason,” Faulisi continued, “it was a very difficult decision to go through this year without the big tree and the Christmas show, but it was the only decision our board could make.”
A total of 80 percent of money raised by the Foundation was committed to charitable institutions and scholarships this year as a result of the Foundation being awarded their 501c(3) not-for profit status. “This designation is the primary reason that we were unable to cover the costs of lighting this year,” said Faulisi. “We have grown tremendously since we started and we were very fortunate to achieve the not-for-profit status so quickly.”
Because of their new tax exempt status the Foundation will now be able to increase the number of individuals and groups they can help and greatly increase the amount of money they can raise. “Because of the 501c(3), all of our contributors can now write off their donations.”
Faulisi contends that out of nearly 180 merchants on the boulevard, only about 17 made contributions to the Foundation. “Unfortunately the community will have to do without the tree this year. It’s not what we wanted to see happen but hopefully now the merchants on Crossbay will realize how important their participation is to support the lighting program and the residents who patronize their establishments.”
The Foundation’s Board of Directors will spend the early part of 2009 designing a program specifically to cover the costs of the lighting for the holiday season. “We hope to find a way to get many more merchants involved,” said Foundation Treasurer Angelo Gurino. “If we can get everyone operating a business along the boulevard to make a small yearly contribution in support the tree, we can continue with the annual program.” Gurino said that if the expense is spread out over a couple of hundred people as opposed to less than two dozen, it’s a viable solution even in the tough economy.
Other possibilities to raise money specifically for the holiday season include residential participation and corporate sponsorship. “The bottom line here,” said Faulisi “is that the tree and the decorations are obviously very important to the neighborhood. The Board is going to put in whatever time it takes to try and work something out so that participation is greatly increased and we can all bring the community what it wants and needs.”