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Family Raises $100,000+ For Make-A-Wish With Incredible Christmas Lights Display

The family brightens lives with more than 40,000 holiday lights!

Every year for the last 10 years, Amy and Don Zombek have festooned their Elizabeth, Pennsylvania house in a spectacular display of thousands of Christmas lights for charity, raising money for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, which helps the dreams of sick children and their families come true. Here, the Zombeks share their inspirational story.

Sparking a bright idea

In 2014, Amy and Don Zombek’s son, Mitchell, needed to come up with a charitable project for his middle school National Honor Society project.

“Well, Christmas is only a few months away, what if you did something then?” Amy suggested.

The Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, family were big Christmas lovers. “Great idea,” Mitchell and his dad agreed, and after more thought, they decided to deck out their house with a fabulous light show, where people could drive by and drop off cash donations. But which charity would they support?

Lights for Charity: The Zombek House
The Zombek House

“Suddenly, I thought about my cousin, Kevin, who passed away many years ago at just a year old from leukemia,” Don shares with First for Women. “It was just so sad. But it gave me the idea: Why not use our light display to help seriously ill kids like Kevin?”

A spectacular show of love

That Christmas season, Mitchell and his parents illuminated their house with about 8,000 lights and raised about $2,900 for Make-a-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. When the lights came down, with Mitchell’s project requirement satisfied, that could have been the end of it.

“But we all felt like we wanted to do more and decided to make the Zombek Christmas Light Display charity event an annual tradition,” Amy smiles.

They started adding more lights each year and hosting a kick-off celebration that officially illuminates the light show for the holidays on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend.

Lights for Charity: Kids visiting and enjoying at the display
Kids visiting and enjoying at the display

At first, they offered horse and carriage rides into the neighborhood. But it got to be too much with street closures. Now, on the opening night, shuttles bring in visitors — between 500 and 600 people — from a nearby school parking lot. The local fire department provides a fire engine to transport Santa and Mrs. Claus to the Zombek’s garage, which becomes Santa’s headquarters for the night so kids can visit with the jolly big guy.

Then through early January, thousands of people drive by the house to view the spectacular display of lights for charity.

“We come every year. It’s a family tradition,” many visitors tell Amy and Don.

Don and Amy Zombek, couple who do the 40,000 Christmas light display to raise $ for Make-a-Wish
Don and Amy Zombek

Brightening hearts

The Zombek’s are grateful for the support they receive, especially from their neighbors, who accept the surge in traffic without complaint. Many have young children, who enjoy the festivities. But even older folks thank them for brightening their lives.

As for the Zombek’s, their children are now grown — Mitchell is 22 and daughter, Chloe, is 16 — but both still love the tradition. In fact, Mitchell helps his dad put up the decorations each year, working for seven to eight hours on weekend days, and a few hours a day during the week starting on November 1st.

This year, their front lawn and house are covered with more than 40,000 lights and whimsical animatronic figures, including a 5.5-foot-tall snowman that sings and dances along with elves, that are programmed to move to a 20-minute track of Christmas songs running on a loop.

The lights usually go on at 6 PM and go off at 9:30 PM on weeknights, and 10:30 PM on weekends. The light show uses so much electricity that it has its own breaker panel and 20 programming boxes, and the family holds fundraisers to help with the cost.

Making wishes come true

That generosity is only topped by the donations that pour in for Make-a-Wish. As of 2021, the Zombek’s had raised $75,000 for the organization. This year, the project is expected to pass the cumulative $100,000 mark.

Lights for Charity: Presenting a donation from the Odenthals for $1738
Receiving a donation for the Christmas lights for charity display

Stephanie Pugliese, director of development for Make-a-Wish Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia, says that many houses raise funds for the nonprofit with Christmas light shows, but the Zombek’s are special. “We haven’t really had any others that have raised as much as the Zombek family,” Pugliese says.

“There were many years where I thought, wow, this is overwhelming and too much,” admits Don. “But usually, at the beginning of January, you get a letter from Make-A-Wish from the kids, talking about their wishes and what they’ve done. It inspires you to keep doing it.”

Amy agrees. “It is a lot of work… but it is so worth it,” she says. “It feels so good to know we are helping sick kids and I think my kids have learned from it as well: to appreciate how fortunate they are and to have compassion.”

Lights for charity

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