Robert Destefano had dreamed of putting up a large Christmas display since he was a child growing up in Franklin Square near Valley Stream North High School.
There was a house across the street from the school that was always well-decorated and featured Santa Claus greeting passersby on Christmas Eve, he recounted, and he said he would one day like to do something similar for the community.
But Destefano, 42, struggled with obesity, and weighed 528 pounds in his 30s, making it difficult to put up such a display. He eventually got gastric bypass and tummy tuck surgery, and lost 300 pounds in one year.
Then, when he saw that his friend, Kevin Lynch, of Whitestone, Queens, win the “Great Christmas Light Fight” on ABC and $500,000 in 2013, Destefano figured it was time to start his own display.
He started installing festive lights and inflatables on his front lawn in 2015, and the next year, he put out a donation box for St. Jude, at his mother’s behest. She told him that since he was doing such a big Christmas display, he should also raise money for children with cancer, he said, “and I loved it.”
He has since collected between $2,000 to $6,000 for the organization each year, as his display grew with more and more decorations. This year, there is barely a square inch of open space left on Destefano’s front lawn at 1051 Harrow Road, between the countless Santa Clauses, the “Grinch” inflatable, penguins, seals, a creche, “Alvin and the Chipmunks” figurines and a reindeer handing out candy canes.
He even traveled to Pennsylvania to pick up an archway, and spent $100 on North Pole signs.
Destefano estimates that the entire display cost him about $100,000, with roughly $3,000 in electricity costs per month. He usually hooks the display up to a generator, he said, but it is currently broken.
The display also took Destefano a long time to complete. He started working on it two weeks before Halloween, and only finished it up on Nov. 29, taking only two weeks off when his father was in the hospital for congestive heart failure and he needed gallbladder surgery.
“It’s been a rough road this year, but that didn’t stop me,” Destefano said. “I do it for St. Jude, and I needed to get it done. It means the world to me.”
And it seems to mean a lot for others as well, as people drove by slowly on Nov. 29 to stop and take a look at the shining Christmas beacon, or got out of their cars and walked around as Christmas music played in the background.
Marisa Nogueira, of Floral Park, for example brought her 22-month-old daughter to take a look around, after seeing Destefano’s post about it online, and Bernadette Forloine said she stops by with her three sons every year, describing the house as “breathtaking” and “the essence of Christmas.” Even his new neighbors, Sabhi Singh and Singh Bunty came out to marvel at the finished product, saying they are lucky to have a neighbor like Destefano.