Salvation Army retreats to a new Interlochen Christmas lights location


ARLINGTON -- The Salvation Army will still hand out free hot chocolate and collect donations from motorists stuck in traffic for the Interlochen Christmas Lights -- just in a different location than the charity had originally planned.

Last week, the Salvation Army canceled plans to set up a red kettle station at a dental office near the entrance to the annual lights tour after protests from some Interlochen area homeowners, who said they were concerned that soliciting donations would worsen traffic congestion and make it seem that visitors were expected to pay to enter.

On Monday, the charity announced that it would relocate its planned festivities, which include Christmas carolers, the Salvation Army Band and 500 cups of free hot chocolate a night, to the parking lot of the Army National Guard office at Randol Mill Road and Oakwood Lane. That's about six-tenths of a mile away from the start of the lights route.

"We'll do everything exactly the same way," said Lt. Patrick Jones with the Salvation Army. "They are all very happy with our change, and they will be pleased with that location."

Through the Red Kettle Campaign, the Salvation Army hopes to raise more than $400,000 to support its homeless shelter, soup kitchen and other community programs. The nonprofit organization had planned to set up a kettle for a second year at Dr. Susan Hollar's office at Bowen Road and Westwood Drive. That intersection is near the entrance to the neighborhood lights display, which draws an estimated 40,000 visitors each season.

Last December, volunteers handed out 3,000 cups of free hot chocolate and collected about $5,000 over six nights from that location, Jones said. But homeowners along the route called and wrote letters last week asking Jones not to set up there again because of traffic concerns, litter from the hot chocolate cups and the appearance that the association was somehow affiliated with the charity.

Late Thursday night, Jones agreed and said a new location would be selected to avoid conflict with the neighborhood.

"It's over. We won and so did the Salvation Army, even though they don't even realize it," Lake Interlochen Homeowners Association President Ralph Sobel wrote Friday in an email to fellow homeowners.

Interlochen's Christmas display -- open to the public from 7 to 11 p.m. -- runs Dec. 14 through Christmas Day this year.

The Salvation Army expects to be at the Army National Guard office every night during the lights display except for Sundays, Jones said.

Hot chocolate will be handed out to motorists stopped at the traffic light in front of the office, he said.

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578

Twitter: @susanschrock

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