By Stephanie Choate
A crowd of costumed singers dressed as Santas and elves will flood Williston on Friday, belting out holiday carols with questionable skills levels to raise money for local organizations.
The 14th annual Santa Night is set for Dec. 14, with stops at Mexicali Grill & Cantina and the Vermont Respite House. More than 50 participants raise a minimum of $150 for a seat on a bus that tours restaurants and bars in the greater Burlington area.
“It’s permanent smiles all night long,” said cofounder Dean Ferrara. “It’s really funny, and it’s a great time.”
Ferrara said singing ability is not a factor in eligibility to join Santa Night.
“If you’re a good singer, technically we don’t want you on the bus,” he joked.
Williston resident Robin Faraone will be among the carolers on Friday, her fourth year participating.
“It’s the best,” she said. “It’s the most fun you can possibly have with a fundraiser.”
Faraone—who noted that her singing voice is “not that good”—said she loves seeing the looks on people’s faces when they see a busload of elves and Santas drive by or pour into a restaurant.
The event raises money for more than 20 local nonprofits, including COTS, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, Women Helping Battered Women, Lund Family Center, Golden Huggs and more. Last year, it raised approximately $15,000.
“Our goal is to try and help people during the holidays that just need a little extra help,” Ferrara said. “We do it because we believe in the mission of helping those people that just need a break.”
Ferrara and fellow cofounder Andrew Allen said they give the profits directly to organizations and let them distribute it.
“The money fills in the gaps for all of these nonprofits, and we try to empower them as much as possible,” Allen said.
Though most money is raised before the event by the singers, the group also passes a festive hat at each stop to collect donations. Santa Night itself is more of a celebration than a fundraising event.
“We do great things with the money, but the event is so much fun and the asks are so low pressure,” Allen said. “Not everyone can write $100 check, but everyone can give a buck.”
There is one serious stop on the bus route, Ferrara said—the Vermont Respite House, which is also a receiving organization.
“Everyone has to sing their best,” he said. “So many people have been impacted by the Respite House. We go in there and line the hallways, and we sing to the best of our ability.”
Ferrara added that they made a commitment to visit the Respite House from year one.
“It’s very emotional,” he said. “It means so much to the people and the families that are there.”
Sharon Keegan, Vermont Respite House administrator, said the event shows people in the Respite House that members of the community care about them, and they “haven’t been forgotten.”
“It’s spreading a little bit of the normal holiday cheer, so that’s very sweet,” she said. “It’s a difficult time for people to be in a hospice residence.”
Though difficult, the Vermont Respite House is Faraone’s favorite stop.
“We just gather in the hallways there, and that’s a really special moment,” she said.
Her first year participating, Faraone said she was too overcome with emotion to sing.
“I was just overwhelmed with the notion of this being probably the last Christmas those people will have,” she said. “It’s just very touching. It’s our one last chance to do something special for them.”
Ferarra estimated the bus would be at Mexicali between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. Online donations are also accepted. For more information and a full list of stops, visit www.santanight.com/burlington.