Superstorm Sandy not only shut off the lights in Fairfield County -- it also dimmed sales of luminaries used in a long-running regional fundraiser.
Greenwich-based Family Centers has sold 5,000 to 6,000 luminary candle kits to benefit the Den for Grieving Kids and the Center For Hope during the best years of its countywide annual Hope Lights Lives fundraiser. This year, they have only sold about 2,000.
"The storm essentially knocked out a two-week window in early November in which many of our kits have sold in the past," said Aleksa Lazarewicz, Family Centers' special events manager. "Despite their best efforts, many of our volunteers simply couldn't sell the kits due to extended power outages or downed trees."
The sales downturn has not discouraged Family Centers. The organization is hoping that area businesses can help it make up for lost sales and has bumped up the number of retail locations, Lazarewicz said.
Businesses across Fairfield County, including Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Weston and Wilton are selling the light kits. Unlike the door-to-door volunteers, they have not seen a drop in luminary sales. Palmer's Market in Darien has sold them since the Center for Hope started the fundraiser, according to Assistant Manager Terry Busskohl.
"They're very, very popular," he said. "They're selling extremely well."
The kits retail for $25 and contain 12 tealight candles, 12 white paper bags and 12 plastic candle-holders.
Organizers ask Fairfield County residents to light the candles at 5 p.m. Dec. 16 to remember loved ones or those suffering from critical illnesses such as cancer.
The luminaries also have a social purpose.
"We've heard that its a great way to get people together as well," said Bill Brucker, Family Centers' communications director.
Brucker said some neighbors put out the luminaries together and then have a gathering akin to a block party.
Longtime Old Greenwich resident Mary Heist, who sells the kits in her neighborhood, said her neighbors light the luminaries on the county-wide lighting day and then gather at her house for drinks and light refreshments.
"It's brought the neighborhood together," she said.
During a candle-lighting ceremony earlier this month, volunteers helped line the walkways of Binney Park in Old Greenwich with about 700 luminaries.
Brucker said he heard rave reviews about the display while he was selling the luminaries down the street from the park at the Beach House Cafe.
"I can't tell you how many people came up to us and said `Oh wow, that was beautiful'," he said.
Hope Lights Lives started 17 years ago in Darien at the Center for Hope, before the organization became a part of Family Centers.
The Center for Hope provides bereavement and critical illness support, while the Den for Grieving Kids provides a place for children and families to talk about the loss of a relative or friend. Lazarewicz hopes to raise $100,000 from sales of the luminaries. While the Den for Grieving Kids or Center for Hope won't close if Family Centers can't reach that goal, Lazarewicz said, "we'll have to find another way to fill in the budget."
For more information on the luminaries, or to purchase a kit online, visit www.familycenters.org.
Jay Polansky is a correspondent.