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Downers Grove

Lighting Up Lester

Christmas tree fundraiser raises money for inclusive playground at Downers Grove school

Downers Grove South freshman football player Mack O'Halloran loads one of 356 Christmas trees onto a flatbed for delivery during Light Up Lester at Doggie Depot in Downers Grove on Nov. 23. Proceeds from the tree sales are going toward an inclusive playground at Lester School in Downers Grove.
Downers Grove South freshman football player Mack O'Halloran loads one of 356 Christmas trees onto a flatbed for delivery during Light Up Lester at Doggie Depot in Downers Grove on Nov. 23. Proceeds from the tree sales are going toward an inclusive playground at Lester School in Downers Grove.

DOWNERS GROVE – Hundreds of Christmas trees arrived in Downers Grove on Nov. 23, and the Lester Community Playground Committee was the beneficiary.

The committee has been raising funds for more than a year to install two inclusive playgrounds at Lester School, and the Light Up Lester event brought it $16,000 closer to its goal.

About 50 volunteers delivered half of the 400 Christmas trees to houses throughout Downers Grove while the remaining trees were loaded onto cars that arrived at Doggie Depot, 635 Rogers Ave., for pickup.

The Lester Elementary playground was due to be remodeled, but the committee decided it would rather wait to raise enough money to build an inclusive playground than to repair what was there, said Patty Esslinger, president of the Lester Community Playground Committee.

The old playground equipment will be donated to Kids Around The World, a nonprofit organization that refurbishes playgrounds and sends the playgrounds to third world countries.

“It was a big decision, but we think it was the right one," Esslinger said. "There’s children in the community that can’t access the playground, so we set up a nonprofit to raise money.”

The playground has two parts and is the largest in the school district, Esslinger said. After the remodel, it will be ADA compliant and will be a space all children can enjoy, she said.

Esslinger said some of the inclusivity components include a ramp and turf surfacing for wheelchair access. The playground currently has no access points for individuals in wheelchairs and has mulch surfacing.

“It will allow children of all ages and abilities to access the playground and be with their peers,” Esslinger said.

Esslinger said the school district is only providing a small portion of the needed funds.

She said it was beautiful to see the project bring the community together. The Light Up Lester event, she said, highlights unity.

The committee plans to make Light Up Lester an annual event, she said.

Volunteers managed the entire operation, including organization, delivering trees, and installing 395 poles around the community. Other volunteers worked at the pickup station.

Community members paid $50 for a tree, installation pole and lights or $75 to have the tree and lights delivered and installed.

The event was made possible through a partnership the committee formed with High Ground Tree Farm, she said.

“The community is set up beautifully with the trees all lit up until the end of the year,” she said. “The lights go out, the trees are lit, and it’s absolutely beautiful. You can feel the beauty throughout the community.”

With less than $60,000 left to raise for the inclusive playground, the committee hopes to begin installation in June 2020.

The next fundraiser the committee will host will be a Chicago Bulls game. A portion of ticket proceeds will go toward the playground project. Esslinger said additional details will be provided on the committee’s website and Facebook page.

The project is a communitywide project, Esslinger said, with children donating their birthday party money and parents donating anything they can to help. She said children donating their birthday money to the project has raised roughly $5,000.

“It’s something to say that the parents are doing a lot of the work, but the kids are also really pushing for this,” Esslinger said. “It’s a beautiful community we live in.”

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