By Carla Caldwell
Christmastime was terribly hard for Jeremy Smoot after his mother’s death in 2007 from complications of lupus. She loved Christmas and went all out every year to decorate.
Jeremy’s wife, Rosalind, started to dread the Christmas season. “I knew how upset and down he would be,” she says. “I knew we had to turn this around. I was looking for ways to get his mind on something else and to make Christmas a happy time for him.”
In 2013, the family moved to Acworth from Texas and Rosalind went to work for Christmas Designers, which installs and sells commercial-grade lights. It was then, she says, that “she put two and two together.”
Rosalind decided that the family should go all out to decorate their home and yard and to give 100 percent of any donations dropped into a bucket to the Lupus Foundation in honor of Jeremy’s mother, Debbie Founds.
“I grew up in New Jersey and it was a common thing if anyone did large holiday setups they would take up donations for local fire and police departments or other groups,” Rosalind says. “Jeremy grew up in Texas and had never heard of that. He thought it would be great to donate, but he was skeptical. He had never seen anyone donate because of a Christmas display.”
In 2014, after getting approval from their homeowner’s association, the family advertised their Christmas display throughout the neighborhood and on Facebook. The weekend after Thanksgiving they turned on their lights and handed out cookies and hot chocolate. More than $100 was donated. They were out again the following weekend and another $100 was collected.
“Jeremy could not believe it,” Rosalind says. “He was blown away. People want to give to a good cause and it is unbelievable how generous people are.”
By Dec. 31, $1,000 had been donated. The following year, $1,200 was collected. The goal this year is $2,000. Rosalind estimates that about 500 people drove by the first year and close to 800 in 2015.
“The kids help add up the money every night and we keep a running total,” Rosalind says. “On Dec. 31, we go to the bank and get a money order and drive to Smyrna, to the office of the Georgia Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America. We set up a meeting so that the kids can present the check and someone with the Lupus Foundation explains to the kids that the money helps families.
“When someone with lupus (a chronic inflammatory disease) goes into the hospital, they can easily be there for seven to 10 days. If someone with lupus gets a cold, for example, it can turn into bronchitis and be difficult to fight off. The money we raise can help pay someone’s mortgage for a month, or pay bills or buy groceries.”
The couple initially used their own incandescent lights to decorate, which had its drawbacks. “With the amount we put up, we were literally using EVERY outlet in the house and breaking circuits every night. Nobody could use the dryer or dishwasher between 5-10 p.m,” Rosalind adds. “We started changing all the lights to LED and the possibilities are now endless!”
The family has added lights and yard fixtures and a product that synchronizes the display to programmed music. Rosalind’s company donated approximately 25,000 new lights this year, expanding their display to more than 50,000 lights. The couple is making snowflake and candy cane fixtures and two 25-foot light trees for this year’s presentation.
“At Christmas, Jeremy is motivated to work with the lights and fixtures and to add new songs,” Rosalind says. “Seeing the donations going to the Lupus Foundation in his mother’s name every year really makes him happy.”