Neighbors in Brentwood Decorate Large Lighted Tunnels for Annual Fundraiser

Some have compared a December walk through a southern Brentwood neighborhood to a walk down Disneyland’s Main Street, surrounded by thousands of tiny colored lights from all directions.

Michelle Smith, organizer of the annual month-long Tunnels of Joy event, laughs at the comparison, although this year more than 100 homes in the La Costa and Torrey Pines neighborhoods of Deer Ridge are participating. Almost all have PVC pipe tunnels wrapped in fairy lights to walk through as well as courtyards and homes adorned with holiday decorations.

“Our hearts grow (when we hear ‘Disneyland’), and we say to ourselves, ‘We have to get brighter,’” Smith said, noting that she herself added some 2,000 new lights this year to the effort of all volunteers.

“It’s like the main street where you walk and you see all the lights on both sides of you,” she said of the event. “It’s just magical because at night all the lights come on and you just feel like you’re walking down the street of lights.”

Todd Clay and his daughter Reagan, 2, Oakley, an explorer in the “Tunnels of Joy” vacation exhibit in the Deer Ridge neighborhood of Brentwood, Calif. On Friday, December 3, 2021. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

The exhibits, now in their fifth year, have been named “Tunnels of Joy” in memory of a beloved neighbor, Joy Bursch, who adored Christmas and who died of breast cancer in 2009. And every year , as residents reached out to their neighbors, more lightweight tunnels were added, Smith said.

But it’s not just the tunnels, says the organizer. Because so many visitors get out of their cars and take the 45-minute walk around the neighborhood, residents spend a lot of time adding decorations to their homes and lawns: giant inflatable snowmen and Santas, polar bears and more. penguins with Santa Claus hats, wooden nativity scenes and signs of greeting among them.

“I think what gets lost sometimes is as great as the tunnels – because they motivate you to walk the streets – the real joy is seeing the lights on houses and in yards,” she said. declared. “These are the decorations. So it’s not just about building tunnels. It’s about making your home magical.

Visitors explore part of the “Tunnels of Joy” vacation exhibit in the Deer Ridge neighborhood of Brentwood, Calif. On Friday, December 3, 2021. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

This year’s event, which started on December 1 and runs through December 31 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. nightly, also includes entertainment – usually every Saturday – she said, noting that the performances were canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the shelter. restrictions in place. Tunnels of Joy’s Facebook and Instagram pages list full performance schedules, which include singers, a drum line, a jazz band, Disney Princesses, car clubs and more.

As well as making the holidays festive, this year’s event will raise funds for the family of Adrian Rodriguez, a 3-year-old boy from Antioch who was diagnosed with stage 4 leukemia in February. His parents, Adrian Sr. and Markelle, who once owned the popular Tacuache taco truck, were forced to shut down the labor-intensive business to care for their 1-year-old son and sister. , although Markelle still works two accountant jobs to keep the family afloat.

A photo of Adrian Rodriguez, 3, of Antioch, diagnosed with leukemia in February is posted next to a donation box at the ‘Tunnels of Joy’ holiday exhibit in the Deer Ridge neighborhood of Brentwood, in California on Friday December. 3, 2021. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

The food truck community will also be on-site – at least one a day plus two dessert trucks – on Christmas weekends and weekends to offer entrees, snacks and desserts, Smith said.

“A lot of them know the family… and they love that they can be here and support him (Adrian),” she said.

All proceeds from Tunnels of Joy donations will go directly to the toddler and their family to help pay for their medical and other expenses. Donation boxes have been installed on La Costa and Torrey Pine drives, and those not participating can use Venmo to donate directly to family. There are even thousands of dollars in possible donated prizes for those who use the online option.

Since his diagnosis, Adrian has had some 30 overnight stays, surgery, six emergency room visits, 12 blood transfusions, 131 doses of nine types of chemotherapy and 24 chemotherapy injections in his legs, among other treatments.

It’s a complicated schedule of treatments and visits to doctors, labs, hospital stays and more, said Markelle Rodriguez. Her son is now in remission but must undergo oral chemotherapy until 2024, along with other medications, and will not be considered cancer-free for five years.

“There is no feeling in the world more helpless than the one you experience when you see your beautiful child suffering from cancer, knowing that you cannot take care of it for him,” she wrote. on the Tunnel of Joy Facebook page. “He must be brave. Everyday. … So we too must be courageous. Everyday.”

Visitors explore part of the “Tunnels of Joy” vacation exhibit in the Deer Ridge neighborhood of Brentwood, Calif. On Friday, December 3, 2021. (Anda Chu / Bay Area News Group)

Rodriguez, in a subsequent interview, said she was grateful the community had come together with her family. Despite his treatment, Adrian is feeling fine right now, she said.

“He’s still playing, he’s still active,” she said. “He’s a very energetic and funny little boy. He has the best personality ever.

The Antioch mother said the family were happy to be a part of the annual tradition, although they were “devastated” when the organizers called them and even more surprised by all the support they receive.

“It’s a lot to take,” she said. “It was just wonderful to receive all the different messages that we get on a daily basis and it’s just crazy to see what kind of community we live in.”

Last year, with many closures due to the pandemic, the Tunnels of Joy event saw record crowds – up to a thousand a night and 20,000 during the month, Smith said. She expects a slight drop this year as things “normalize”.

“There was an extra spike last year due to circumstances we probably won’t see this year, but we will still be very busy and I anticipate our entire season this year will be very festive, very crowded and a lot of fun.” , said Smith.

More information can be found at www.facebook.com/tunnelsofjoy or www.instagram.com/tunnelsofjoy/.



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