Luminary bags and votive candles lined the streets of Long Beach on New Year’s Eve as part of the first annual Light Up Long Beach event.
“It gave a little bit of hope, especially as we start the new year,” said event organizer Jessie Farrell.
Farrell, a Long Beach resident, organized the event after returning to Long Beach after Hurricane Sandy, explaining that she found the storm-ravaged community to be a bit bleak.
“When I came back it was literally very dark in the community,” she said.
Farrell said she remembered luminary events being common when she lived in the south, and thought a similar effort in Long Beach could lift residents’ spirits. She reached out to Mandy Hession, co-founder of the Long Reach Foundation, who helped promote the event on Facebook. From there, Farrell said the initiative took off, when 500 people responded with a “yes” on the event’s Facebook page that they would participate. Many residents placed luminary lights outside of their homes and throughout their neighborhoods, including on the steps of East School.
Chris Cahn, a lifetime Long Beach resident, said he thought it was a great way to “show love” for the town he grew up in. Many of Cahn’s neighbors in his apartment building at 855 E. Broadway were away for the holidays, so Cahn teamed up with the superintendent of his building to light up the balconies.
“I think it’s a great feel good moment,” said Cahn. “We all could use that feel good moment these days.”
East End resident Stacey Gross said the effort illustrated the strong bond that Long Beach residents have.
“This is very much a community,” she said. “Neighbors do help neighbors out and people do care about each other.”
Like Cahn, Gross lit up many of her neighbors’ houses, because they have yet to return home since the storm.
“We just need some light and life back in the town;” she said, “a night where people can smile and get some warmth in their life again.”
Photographer Christina Tisi-Kramer said she drove around Long Beach photographing the lights. She originally had intended to use a map listing the houses that would be lit up, but explained that it was not necessary because so many people had participated and the lights were ubiquitous.
“I just thought it was beautiful,” she said. “I was surprised by how many people actually contributed.”
Tisi-Kramer said she believes that the lights served as a symbol of unity for Long Beach. “We’re still here, and don’t forget about us,” she said. “We’re coming back.”