Lights tour strings together emergency fund

The urge to help people in need drives the organizers of the popular bus tour.

The tour bus passes the Gesa Power House Theatre during the 2012 Christmas Lights Bus Tour.

The tour bus passes the Gesa Power House Theatre during the 2012 Christmas Lights Bus Tour. Courtesy photo

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WALLA WALLA — As the holidays brighten winter’s darkness, area residents decorate their homes and businesses with Christmas lights to illuminate the nights. A fun and easy way to check out the many Christmas displays is to take a ride on the second annual Christmas Lights Bus Tour.

Tim Applebee and Liz Pierce of the Home Loan Center have partnered with Dream Ride Charters & Tours, Columbia REA, La Casita and many other area businesses to offer prizes and the tours of the Valley’s exquisitely decorated homes. Homeowners can win prizes for their decorations, and tour participants can win prizes while they ride in luxury on buses with all the amenities.

If you go

The Christmas Lights Bus Tour will be Dec. 19 and 20. Two tours are offered each day, 5:30-7:30 p.m. and 7:30-9:30 p.m. The tour starts at the Home Loan Center, 1 E. Main St.

Tickets are $10 for adults; $9 for seniors; $6 for children; and free for age 4 and younger. Call 509-527-3353 to purchase.

The event is planned for Dec. 19-20, with two tours each date. A third night is possible if there’s enough demand.

Proceeds from the tour will go to the Community Disaster Help Fund that Applebee and Pierce are compiling.

Three years ago they helped the victim of a house fire. Since then have assisted many others in similar situations with donations of money and essential items —provided by them and by other donors.

Feeling helpless while waiting for people to donate funds and needed goods, they decided to create the disaster fund to quickly provide for people facing crisis situations. Having funds ready to go when these emergencies arise is more efficient than waiting for donations to trickle in, Pierce said.

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The light displays put everyone in a festive mood.

In addition to the contributors to the tour project, she said they’ve received help from Mr. Ed’s, Jumpin’ Jellybeanz and Sweet Putt.

“We’re a hub now,” she said.

Pierce and her husband, Gary Pierce, did a lot of driving around to find the best Christmas light displays so they could map out a route.

“We’ve driven about 300-400 miles to make this route, night after night after night,” she said. They time it out using a stopwatch and put together a route and a plan.

“Imperial Street always decorates. You just kind of know where to look. In Milton-Freewater, Jacquelyn and Eighth is beautiful and all set to music. It’s a 20-minute show, including religious music, Santa and even frogs. It’s a pretty neat show — there’s nothing else like it around here,” she said.

Pierce works as a tour guide for one bus and her husband is the other guide.

“He stands up there with his flashlight and he helps the driver with the route. We’ve driven it plenty of times,” she said.

The bus tour is happy and spirited.

“We sing Christmas carols,” she said. “It’s OK if we’ve forgotten some of the words.”

Tour participants gather at Home Loan Center, on the corner of Main Street and Second Avenue, to enjoy punch and cookies in the office before boarding the bus.

The tour participants get to choose the winners of the home decorating contest.

“If they see a house that looks particularly awesome, they can write down the address and vote for it later,” she said.

Pierce and Applebee want to focus on the positive and making every day better for those who have lost everything.

They also want to help spread the joy of the season to those who go on the tour.

“Tim and I absolutely adore elderly people, that’s who it is who ride the bus on the first tour,” she said.

Last year the tour was full. They had 208 people, 52 on each bus. This year it might expand.

“We’re not opposed to adding another night,” she said. “We want people to come and enjoy it.”

Karlene Ponti is the U-B specialty publications writer. She can be reached at 509-526-8324 or karleneponti@wwub.com.

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