Those with a view of the water just south of the Cayuga Inlet the evening of Nov. 10 saw hundreds of lanterns floating downstream, illuminating the otherwise dark waterway. They were set adrift by those who had lost someone special, and each one represented a loved one who died because of drug addiction, mental health issues, homelessness and/or suicide.
“It’s sad that there’s so many people here,” said Scott Goodrich, of Newfield, who was busy handing lanterns to other volunteers, who stood further down the bank, forming a chain to the water.
For Goodrich, the event is literally close to home; it is a fundraiser for Second Wind Cottages, a nonprofit organization that provides shelter for local homeless men in the form of 18 cottages in Newfield. Goodrich resided at Second Wind for four years. He said the organization has turned his life around.
“Life is about learning every day, no matter how old you are,” Goodrich said.
Second Wind hopes to make the festival an annual fundraising event. “We hope for it to grow,” Carmen Guidi, founder of Second Wind, said on Nov. 8. “We’ve got a lot of interest from the community thus far, and we’ve only been able to promote it for about a month.”
After seeing dozens of people turn out for the event despite the cold and the minimal time to plan, Guidi and other Second Wind staff agreed the lantern festival has potential to be an annual event, and they plan on holding it next year.
This year the donors were mostly local businesses, who paid a minimum of $10 to sponsor each lantern, though many donated more; by the Friday before the event, Second Wind had raised $915, and 58 lanterns were dedicated. The nonprofit purchased 500 lanterns, so many of the extras were also launched.
The day before the event, volunteers wrote the donors’ messages on the lanterns for them. But in the future the goal is for more community members to participate, with each person who would like to donate getting the opportunity to decorate their lantern ahead of time.
“They give a donation, and they can put their loved one’s name on the lantern and float it, and it’s a way to remember those who have passed and bring awareness to the problems of homelessness and mental health and addiction,” Guidi explained.
Guidi gave a short speech at the event, and Eric Hause, Eric Needes and Heather Soyring provided acoustic guitar music and vocals as the lanterns were lit and set afloat.
Standing in the chill of the autumn evening, Chuck Newman, one of the founding members of the Second Wind Cottages Board of Directors, said the event reminded him about those who are less fortunate. He reflected on the cycle of homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse that often keeps people from seeking the help they need.
“No one wants to be in a tent in this weather, and sober,” Newman said. “I’m at home in my warm house, and there are people out there—I don’t know how they do it.”
The concept for the event was the idea of Sandra Sorenson, executive director of Second Wind Cottages.
Sorenson, who said she was tasked with developing a fundraising event for Second Wind when she came aboard as executive director six months ago, wanted to come up with something that would harken back to Second Wind’s beginnings. Knowing that Guidi had lost a close friend who was homeless to suicide (an event that inspired him to start providing shelter for the homeless), Sorenson thought it was only fitting that the fundraiser honor loved ones who lost their lives to suicide due to addiction and mental illness.
She said that in Asian cultures lanterns are a common way of remembering people. Originally she thought Second Wind might send lanterns up into the sky, lighting them and setting them adrift over the hillside behind the cottages, but she soon found out that those types of lanterns are not legal in New York State.
Launching lanterns on the water, though, is a perfectly legal alternative, and one that actually worked out perfectly, Sorenson said.
“The Cherry Art Space is on the inlet where the Jungle is,” she said, the “Jungle” referring to an area where the local homeless population is well known to reside outdoors.
“It was always my hope that the lanterns would go down past the Jungle, and someone would think, ‘I don’t want to be a lantern,’ and maybe someone would rethink their choices,” Sorenson said.
The Cherry allowed the fundraiser to use the outdoor space behind its building, and all the neighboring business also gave their consent to hold the event next to the water. “They were fine with us spilling over into their property,” Sorenson said.
In the future, the event will likely be held earlier in the year (when it is warmer) and will include food vendors as well.