Most families like to spend the holidays roasting chestnuts on a open fire, drinking egg nog and decorating the Christmas tree with family and close friends.
Christina Epp’s family spends their Christmas with a few more people than just close friends. A few thousand more, actually.
For the past six years, the Epps have hosted “The Crazy Christmas Lightshow,” a benefit event held at their home in Wall Township, N.J.
The event benefits Challenged Youth Sports, a charity that seeks to promote sports and activities for handicapped children, as well as build playgrounds for disabled youth.
Epp, an FDU sophomore, and her family, which includes her father and stepmother, her older brother and her younger sister, raised over $6,000 for Challenged Youth Sports, as well as for smaller project, Team Leo.
“Team Leo was started to raise money for a little boy, Leo, who was in need of a motorized wheelchair,” said Epp, 20.
Leo Olsen, now nearly 5 years old, was born prematurely with periventricular leukomalacia, also known as PVL, and cerebral palsy.
“At least year’s event, we were able to raise enough money to get him a wheelchair, and give money to Challenged Youth Sports,” said Epp.
The Epps’ successful philanthropic event has become a phenomenon within their community.
“The first year, back when I was a freshman in high school, we had a couple hundred people show up, and now we have a couple thousand people on our lawn,” said Epp.
“This year, we’ll be having it [the event] the weekend of December 9th and 10th, a little further from the holidays, because we all know the holidays are crazy,” said Epp.
Epp’s older brother, Ryan Epp, 23, and his two friends spend weeks putting up the hundreds of lights used in the show.
“My brother’s two friends are engineers; they help configure all of the lights in the show, which are synced to music,” said Epp.
A local DJ, Dan “DJ Dan” Brateris, syncs the lights to renditions of holiday songs like “O Come All Ye Faithful” by groups such as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
In addition to the lightshow, which draws in crowds from all over South Jersey, the Epps give away presents to the children who attend the event.
Epp’s uncle, Kevin Hoy, dresses up as Santa Claus, and Epp dresses up as Mrs. Claus every year.
“I really feel like Mrs. Claus sometimes; I’m wrapping presents every day for two weeks,” she said, with a laugh.
The Epps have also tried to incorporate other members of the community into the night’s entertainment.
One year, a local church choir performed, and Epp is on the look-out for talent to partake in this year’s lightshow.
“I recently met someone who can sing opera. I’d never heard anyone sing opera before, but this guy can really sing,” said Epp.
The event is proof of not only the Epps’ generosity, but of the community’s as well.
“The funds we raise are strictly from donations,” said Epp.
Although having no real personal ties, Epp and her family still hold the charities close to their hearts.
“I don’t know anyone who is handicapped personally; we just thought they [Challenged Youth Sports] were doing a great thing and we wanted to be a part of it,” she said.
For the Epp family, the holiday season is the perfect time to do it.
“Everybody tries to do what they can around the holidays,” Epp said.
“So many people are busy buying presents and spending time with their families … sometimes, you don’t think about the people who need help. But every year, so many people come – every different person you could imagine is there – and they give their time and money to our cause.”
As far as plans for the future, Epp and her family are already busy with the planning of “The Crazy Christmas Lightshow 2011.”
“It’s all so rewarding in the end, to know that you can help someone,” said Epp.
For even further plans for the future, Epp is still unsure.
“I’m undecided right now. I’m not really sure what I would do if not this,” she said. “After all, I don’t have to have it all figured out right now, I’m only 20!”