When the Milpas Community Association (MCA) put up the city of Santa Barbara’s first solar-powered Christmas tree last year in the Milpas roundabout, they knew they had a community win on their hands. At 4 AM on the day before Thanksgiving, a crew of volunteers unloaded the 15 ft tree, mounted it up in the roundabout, and decorated it with solar-powered lights. “It was a Herculean achievement,” said executive director Sharon Byrne. “15 Milpas elves wanted to create a brighter holiday for the community. One of our neighbors, Martha Jaime, saw us putting up the tree, and immediately dashed home to create a star for the top. I explained it had to be solar-powered, and she delivered it the next day. John Dixon (of Tri County Produce) raced up the ladder to put it on top before the tree lighting ceremony that night.”
She paused, and then questioned, “When have you ever seen a neighborhood pull together like that?”
The Milpas community has a way of producing holiday miracles, notes Alan Bleecker, MCA President. “We are able to do amazing things, on a shoestring budget, really,” he said. “It just moves the spirit to see neighbors come together in new and creative ways to make things happen for love of this community.”
But bringing holiday joy to the area is by no means free. It costs the volunteer association $10,000 to get the holiday starlights up on Milpas street poles. The MCA also produces the Milpas Holiday Parade, now in its 61st year, and funded the solar equipment and Christmas tree for the roundabout. “We always have to fundraise to make all this happen,” said MCA Vice President Bea Molina. “It takes a lot of volunteer hours to go door-to-door to visit each business.” Last year, the Fresh Market paid for the lights as their welcome gift to the Milpas neighborhood. That generous donation freed MCA volunteers to focus on additional fun holiday events for the community, like the tree lighting.
This year, the group faced daunting fundraising hurdles to create holiday magic on Milpas. The solar panels that light the community tree were vandalized, and needed to be replaced. The MCA fretted that Milpas could be dark during the holidays if they could not raise the funding needed for the lights, parade, and tree in time.
The Santa Barbara City Firefighters Association learned of Milpas’ need for a Christmas tree, and wanted to help. Tony Pighetti, President of the Santa Barbara City Firefighters Association, put it out to a vote among the Firefighters Association’s Executive Board members the same night he heard the community needed a tree.
He was blown away by the response.
“It was unanimous, instantly,” said Pighetti. “Fire Station 2 is right there in the neighborhood, and has been part of the positive change the community is creating. The MCA won a national Neighborhood of the Year title, and our guys were right there with them, on the frontlines. The MCA reaches out to us for the Milpas Holiday Parade, and we provide a big fire engine for Santa. We also bring an engine for Kids Day at the EyeGlass Factory on Milpas. We have consistently been part of this community. How could we not want to help? We are excited to help make this happen with both funds and support, as the firefighters of Santa Barbara not only respond to emergencies, but continue to be involved in community events with monies raised by the firefighters themselves.”
The Firefighters Association is providing the funds to purchase the tree, and the muscle needed to help raise it into the roundabout in the wee hours of December 5th.
“There is literally no one better equipped for raising a tree than our firefighters,” says Byrne. “For them to step up to help save Christmas on Milpas….it warms the soul of this community. You can never predict where a miracle is going to come from. This year, it’s coming from our firefighters.”
Bea Molina agrees. “What an enormous gift! Now we can keep the Milpas Solar Community Christmas tree tradition alive for families and children here. It’s a true Christmas miracle for our neighborhood. Thank you to our firefighters!”