AFOLS finding it difficult to keep the lights on

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This year is proving to be a challenging one for the Airdrie Festival of Lights Society (AFOLS) as it struggles to keep the lights on.

“It’s the darned wind chill that’s killing us,” festival co-ordinator Michelle Pirzek said.

“We knew going into this season with all the money we’d spent on the upgrades and such, we needed to at least meet our targets. Every year we do up our budget and we take a look at the economy. We had already kind of reduced our budget for this year, knowing it was going to be a tougher economy.”

Bitter cold invaded Airdrie not long after the AFOLS started its 30-day run. Temperatures well below freezing are keeping visitors away and donations down.

Pirzek said it is policy to run the festival as “lights only” on nights when the temperature drops to -25 C or lower. The popular train does not run and the concession is closed.

“You just can’t predict the weather. We didn’t expect to be largely shut down for as long as we have been,” she said. “We have definite concerns. I mean, the month’s not over; things could turn around.”

Changes to the Canadian Electrical Code required the AFOLS to completely rewire its displays over the summer months, including the installation of new LED lights.

Pirzek said the AFOLS upgraded all of its power boxes in 2015, at a cost of approximately $12,000; however, adding ground fault circuit interrupters was still required, in part because the festival is an outdoor event and susceptible to wet weather.

Pirzek said the weather forecast over the next two weeks has her concerned.

“We know that the numbers aren’t going to be there. Going forward, we could be in jeopardy for next season,” she said. “We’ve spent half of next season’s budget and we’re not, at this point, making up for this season.”

The AFOLS annual budget is approximately $100,000, of which 60 per cent is spent on operations. Pirzek said the AFOLS board runs the festival one season in advance, ensuring there is always enough money in the bank to run the current season and the following one.

“The extra $50,000 that we’ve spent this year has put that in jeopardy,” she said. “We haven’t had a choice but to spend it.”

The festival welcomes approximately 60,000 visitors per year and collects between $20,000 and $30,000 in donations.

The festival is funded through corporate sponsorship, private donations and the AFOLS is eligible to receive a Community Investment Funds (CIF) grant of approximately $11,000 each year.

Support from the community is helping to ease the society’s financial issues.

Two local businesses, including Niikos Furniture owned by Chris Haake, have stepped forward to hold fundraisers for AFOLS.

Haacke said he and his family were drawn to help the festival because “we just love the Festival of Lights and we think it’s awesome. Airdrie wouldn’t be the same without it.

“We’re donating a custom made bed, either a king or a queen. Whoever wins it, it would be their style or colour, because we have a few different styles that we offer.”

The bed is valued at approximately $1,000.

All that’s required to enter is a minimum $10 donation to the AFOLS, through the Cool Giveway Airdrie Alberta Facebook page.

“Just comment or message us through the Cool Giveaway page and then you’re entered to win,” he said.

The draw for the bed will be made Dec. 30.

Also stepping up to help out is Enlighten Laser, which has donated a corrective laser package worth approximately $1,200, according to Haacke.

As of Dec. 12, Haacke said 75 donations had been made. Pirzek said their online donations were up to $1,679.

For Pirzek, all the support shows the festival is an integral part of Airdrie residents’ Christmas experience.

“We are overwhelmed,” she said. “We truly appreciate the support of the community this year. We are important and we thank them for reminding us.”

More information about the AFOLS is available at airdriefestivaloflights.com.

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