Andrew Duberstein

‘Twas the week before finals and all through Collins Hall seasonal festivities bring joy to all. Thousands of twinkling lights appeared without explanation Monday, Nov. 30 at Collins Hall to promote the residence hall’s canned food drive for the Oxford Community Choice Pantry. Three first-year residents surprised the dorm with the lights display to gain support for the hall’s food drive, won the residence hall decorating contest and have since donated more than 100 cans to the pantry.

Strung from stem to stern, Collins’ display brightens the cold night for the passersby trekking to Brill for a study session or Erickson for dinner.

Twinkling on campus

The lights and food drive have an unexpected beginning.

On a weekly Wal-Mart run in mid-October, first-years James Hogan and Charlie Poe were cruising down the aisles when Poe saw something in the distance.

“Is that a Christmas tree?”

The duo approached, mystified by a whole wing of wreaths, ornaments, and lights dedicated to the holiday season – two weeks before Halloween. Poe and Hogan said they decided if corporate America could skip Thanksgiving for Christmas, they could too. They covered their door in gift wrap and bows and decked the room with lights and wreaths.

When friend Grant Peterre heard about the Wal-Mart trip, the three came up with a scheme to string lights across Collins, and the idea, like the 8-foot snowman and penguin now atop the hall, quickly inflated.

“We thought, ‘You know, we can do better than that,'” Peterre said.

Before long, the trio had a $150 budget and overwhelming support from their corridor. They bought inflatables and encouraged the floor to bring lights back after Thanksgiving break. At 3 a.m. the Sunday after Thanksgiving, D-Day (for “decoration,” of course) took place. Planned to the minute, in three hours, about 20 Collins residents decked the hall for the holidays.

Lights for cans

For Poe, Peterre and Hogan, the effort was for more important than just tinsel. The three first-years combined their decorations with the hall’s holiday food drive, hoping to drum up more support.

“We wanted to bring this entire operation to be more than decoration, especially in the holiday season when there are so many in need,” Poe said. “It would be so easy when we have all these people walking by to get them to give a couple cans for a food drive.”

They also entered their display in a residence hall decorating competition.

“Every aspect of this comes down to one thing: making people happy,” Peterre said.

The Monday after the decorations went up, they were told it had to come down unless they got approval from the fire marshal, who would arrive within the week.

Fire Marshal Duchan Besedick came an hour before Collins would be judged for the decorating contest. Besedick said indoor power sources were hazardous and the lights had to come down. Poe, Hogan and Peterre called Ace Hardware and spoke with John Clover to see if the store rented generators. Clover is a former resident of Collins, when it first opened in 1952. He said he loved their lights and offered his own generator to the project for that night. The maintenance and housekeeping staff of Collins Hall have been supportive as well, even lending a second generator. When the decorating judges came back, they found themselves taken too. Collins won the competition and is donating the proceeds to the Oxford Community Choice Pantry.

Hogan said at least 100 hours and 100 cans have been donated so far.

“That’s not nearly enough,” Hogan said. “I want at least 1,000.”

Peterre said he’s amazed at the response.

“I’m sitting in Italian class, and I overhear people talking about the lights display,” Peterre said.

“I don’t know these people, but they’re just raving. By word of mouth this has spread to so many.”

The group plans to continue the drive until Dec. 16 and held a promotional concert to encourage donations Wednesday night in front of Collins featuring the Cheezies and President Hodge.

Miami for the holidays

First-year Emily Sanscrainte said the lights reminded her of home and brought tears to her eyes when she saw them.

“A residence hall can sometimes feel solemn and lonely, but the lights brought out the true warmth of our community,” Sanscrainte said.

Collins Resident Assistant Bradley Walker said the lights brought the community closer together.

“It creates a feeling of engagement while promoting a good cause,” Walker said. “It’s kind of like putting signs up (advertising the food drive) in Shriver, but a brighter idea.”

Sophomore economics major and Collins Community Council treasurer Clark Johns hopes the display can spread this feeling across the university.

“We are clearly committed to each other and a cause,” Johns said. “In the depth of winter, even in difficult times, we still have a quality of life well above the neediest. That we can celebrate the season demonstrates that we have plenty. With this liberty comes responsibility. Through this prosperity we have the opportunity to give and have others partake in the celebration.”

Hogan said he looks forward to the future and hopes the lights will start a holiday tradition.

“I’m hoping this will grow over the next few years to a huge competition between Miami University and Ohio University,” Hogan said. “Could you imagine the support from that?”