- January 3, 2022
The holidays are coming to Baldwin Park — and so is another opportunity for residents to give back to the Central Florida community.
When the clock strikes 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, Baldwin Park’s Village Center will be transformed into a spectacle of festive, twinkling lights. Presented this year by AdventHealth and Park Life Orlando, Light Up Baldwin Park marks the official start of the season for the community, and holiday cheer will be abundant.
Children will get to meet Santa Claus himself and tell him about their Christmas wishes, and everyone will get to jump on their holiday shopping as they peruse various vendors.
“The biggest highlight is the lighting up of Baldwin Park,” says Sydney Albert, events director and social media manager for Consult Boom/Baldwin Park Events. “We’ll be lighting up all of the palm trees down in the Village Center, as well as lighting all the way down by the lake. We’ll have a whole bunch of vendors for four hours with arts and crafts. It’ll be a lot of fun. There will also be local businesses there, and we’ll have some food trucks.”
Albert said there will be more lights this year than last, and the event overall will be larger, as well. Last year, producers expected between 2,000 and 3,000 attendees, but the total turnout was closer to 4,000 or 5,000. This year, they are hosting the event in conjunction with the sponsors and First Friday Festival. So far, Light Up Baldwin Park has garnered more than 9,000 responses on Facebook.
“Last year, we just had the lighting by the lake, but this year, we’ll be lighting up all of Baldwin Park,” she says. “That’s one of the big differences. We’ll have a lot more vendors and more street closures. (That way) it’ll be more of an inclusive event so people can walk the street and be able to be in all of the sections in which the lighting is happening.”
For families with children interested in meeting Santa Claus, Albert said there will be a photographer capturing the Christmastime memories. The photos are free and will be available for all of the families to download.
But just as important as celebrating the holidays is recognizing it’s the season for giving. It’s why Light Up Baldwin Park, now in its second year, has partnered with radio station XL 106.7’s Baby DJ program to collect toys for Central Florida children in need.
The Baby DJ program began more than 25 years ago with founder and XL 106.7 radio personality John Hill, better known as “Johnny Magic.” According to the Baby DJ website, Hill was inspired to provide assistance to Central Florida’s economically disadvantaged families.
In addition to his career as a radio host, Hill has spent many hours working throughout the Central Florida community and noticed many families experienced issues with providing their children with necessities — especially during the holidays. That’s when he and former radio co-host Doc Holliday launched the Baby DJ program, which makes it possible for impoverished families to provide a wonderful holiday experience for their children.
“We found there was a need in our community, that people really needed help around the holidays,” Hill says. “We decided to start a program that would help families out, no matter what they were celebrating, if there was a need for their families. I think the first year, we may have helped maybe 15 families, and we’ve grown to the point now where we’re doing more than just helping for holidays. We’re providing housing, emergency foods, we’ve supplied schools in seven districts with backpacks full of school supplies, it’s just grown to the point where the community now knows that if you give to the Baby DJ program, it’s going to help people right here in Central Florida.”
Albert began working with Consult Boom three years ago and said the event organizers chose different charities and organizations to give back to. However, they enjoyed working with the Baby DJ program because of its direct impact on Central Florida.
“Having that local charity just made it a little more homey for us, and everyone could be helping their neighbors, and that makes people feel good,” Albert says. “We also got to go to the studio and see the toys actually being handed to the families. It’s grown and it’s just awesome to see it helping the local community around us.”
The Baby DJ program has grown from having helped those initial 15 families to more than 2,500 last season. It takes 1,200 to 1,300 volunteers to help with the program, Hill said, affectionately dubbing it “organized chaos.” Families chosen to benefit from Baby DJ are allowed to “shop” for toys in the Baby DJ warehouse, and Hill said that at any given time there could be 600 families and 400 to 500 volunteers on hand.
In fact, Rep. Darren Soto recently honored Hill and the Baby DJ program on the floor of Congress — recognizing him, volunteers and community partners for the work they do through the Baby DJ program.
“It’s kind of surreal … for me I kind of felt uncomfortable accepting (the recognition) because it is the community,” Hill says. “You look at Baldwin Park, they’re coming together to collect for children. I just look at myself as the person that heads it up, but I think it’s great, I think people see there’s a need and they want to help out. For me, it’s beautiful and it shows that community can work when everyone works together.”
Albert estimates between $500 and $750 worth of toys and monetary donations for the Baby DJ program were collected at the Baldwin Park tree lighting last year. She and other Baldwin Park Events staff members hope to exceed the number of toys and the monetary donations collected for Baby DJ this year. You can bring donations to the Santa photo booth at Light Up Baldwin Park.
“It’s awesome and the first year we did it, we did it a little later … last year, we got an earlier start,” Albert says of collecting for Baby DJ. “This year, I think we’re really going to try to go even further with it and collect more toys and donations.”
“It really humbles you to know the amount of suffering that people are going through this holiday season,” Hill says. “There are a lot of people out there going through hard times, and in a lot of cases we have maybe 3% to 4% of people who write us letters (who are) living in their cars. Some people don’t know where to turn — they hit hard times. …We have families that say, ‘I don’t eat sometimes so I can pay the bills.’ A lot of times, people just need a hand.”