Sylvan Place residents have been decorating houses for the holidays for nearly 30 years. Since 2014, they have banded together each season to raise funds for charities to honor the memory of two of their own.
As part of their efforts, the Valley Stream group holds a block party, serving hot dogs and hot chocolate, giving out gifts and inviting Santa to share in the festivities in honor of their late neighbors Chris Schroeder, who died of cancer in 2013 at 18, and Michael Smith, who had Down syndrome, and died the same year at 44.
Alex Carr and his wife, Sheryl, have been at the forefront of the annual block party since the inaugural. Usually, food and hot chocolate are served, gifts are given out, the Valley Stream Fire Department lets families explore the trucks and Santa Claus pays a visit to the kids. The party hasn’t taken place in the Covid-19 era, but houses are still being decorated.
“The Saturday before Christmas, we’d always have the block party,” Carr said. “This block here has 40 houses, and 36 out of 40 usually decorate. This is just all on Sylvan Place.”
Carr, now 59, who grew up on Sylvan Place and has been there since he was four, had one word to describe the block: close-knit. He recalled when a few neighbors decided to have a little decoration competition between houses for the holidays.
The block has been raising money in a little box outside Carr’s house since 2014, when they started decorating for Schroeder and Smith after they passed away. The funds raised are split between the Sunrise Association, a non-profit aimed at supporting families with children suffering from cancer in honor of Schroeder; and the Anchor Program Fund, which supports people with special needs throughout the Town of Hempstead, in honor of Smith.
“When we first started out, we’d raise about $1,500,” Carr said. “We’ve had up to $3,500 for the year and we’ve even had up to $4,000. We give it to charities, whatever we can give them. This year we were able to collect $3,100.”
The houses are lit up the entire month of December and into early January. Carr said hundreds of people walk the block each day, on average, depending on the weather and temperature. The biggest night is the Saturday before Christmas, which draws anywhere between 500 and 1,000 people each time.
Carr may have been decorating for 30 years and admits it may be nearing the time when he cuts back a bit -- but he loves it.
“It’s what I like to see, people decorating people and just getting out there enjoying the holiday and enjoying the neighborhood,” he said. “Oh, and next time, we are looking to turn around and have the return of Santa at Sylvan Place.”