RIDGE MANOR WEST — Although the holiday season is a time for families to gather, it can also be a time for communities to get together, network and forge new friendships while sharing some Christmas cheer.
With that in mind, the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce's East Side Development Committee today will bring together residents and the business community in the eastern part of the county to welcome the holiday season with the annual Light Up Ridge Manor Christmas Festival.
Now in its third year, the evening celebration at Sunrise Plaza, just east of Interstate 75, will include Christmas carolers, a cake walk, children's games and activities, pictures with Santa Claus, the bookmobile, raffles, Smokey Bear and his cabin, clowns and balloons.
DJ Bob Pepe will provide music, and there will be a live radio broadcast by WWJB-AM 1450. There will also be a "Road to Bethlehem" walk-through drama, presented by members of Hillside Baptist Church.
The event will feature about 30 business vendors offering giveaways and interactive children's activities.
This year's event chairwoman is Jessica Huggins with Microtel Inn and Suites. Assisting her are Kevin Tennie of SunTrust Bank and Deidre Fletcher of Days Inn.
"The focus is to bring the community together and do something for the children," said Tennie. "It's a festive occasion. And the best thing about it is it's free."
The East Side Development Committee, which formed four years ago, has about 35 members. The group meets at 8:15 a.m. the first Wednesday of each month at Denny's in Ridge Manor West. There is no cost to join, and members do not have to be chamber members.
All proceeds from this year's raffles will benefit Jericho Road Ministries.
Tennie said the first Light Up Ridge Manor raffle in 2008 raised about $700 for charity; last year's raised about $1,400.
Raffle items include gifts such as bicycles, restaurant gift cards, beauty items, tickets to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and a variety of other items.
"The entire event is put together with a zero budget," Tennie said. "We get no support other than donations. The rest is gratis and time … and the help of the chamber."
He credited chamber president Pat Crowley and the chamber staff for their support of the event.