The Lions clubs’ annual drive-thru Christmas in the Park charitable fundraising event had the largest turnout ever, according to Clair Zirnhelt, a member of the committee that organizes the event.

Nearly 50 holiday-themed, lighted displays were set up on a route within Lincoln Park in south Grand Forks and available for viewing nightly from Nov. 27 through New Year’s Eve.

This past holiday season was “our biggest year, ever,” Zirnhelt said. "The (COVID-19) virus was a big part of the reason.”

The displays drew 5,935 vehicles to the display route, and the Lions clubs grossed $34,000, said Zirnhelt, a member of the South Forks Lions' board.

That is compared to when, in late 2019, about 3,500 vehicles toured the route, which annually features colorful displays sponsored by local businesses and other organizations.

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On the night of Dec. 16, when admission fees were earmarked for the Circle of Friends animal shelter, $1,743 was raised in freewill donations, Zirnhelt said.

Christmas in the Park likely drew more people and raised more money for charities than previous years because it allowed people, generally sequestered at home due to the pandemic, to get out of the house and do something to safely celebrate the holidays as a family.

Funds raised through the Christmas in the Park event will be used to support organizations, such as the Northlands Rescue Mission, United Way, St. Joseph’s Social Care and the Salvation Army.

The funds will help to make up for other Lions projects that had to be cancelled because of the pandemic, according to Zirnhelt.

Christmas in the Park is organized by the Grand Forks Lions Club, South Forks Lions Club, Red River Lions Club and the UND Campus Lions Club.

The event has raised $350,000 for charitable causes over its 19-year history, organizers said.