Truth Community Church organized and hosted the event. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

Despite the cold weather and threat of imminent rain, about 300 people attended the annual Flanders community tree lighting and arrival of Santa Claus at the Truth Community Church grounds Friday night.

The event featured photos with Santa, Christmas carols sung by the Riverhead Middle School show choir, an outdoor fire, and cookies, doughnuts, chips and hot chocolate to fend off the cold. A Flanders Fire Department engine was also on site.

Once the Christmas tree was lit, a raffle with 14 prizes for children, four prizes for teenagers and four prizes for adults was held, thanks to donations from Truth Community Church, who also organized and hosted the event.

The Riverhead Middle School show choir performs. Photo: Maria Piedrabuena

To the delight of the crowd, a final surprise raffle was held featuring the big prize of three Disney World All-Access passes.

The lucky winners were the Gilliam family, who were attending the Flanders tree lighting event for the first time at the urging of a local school teacher.

“I feel shocked, amazed, excited,” a surprised Shannon Gilliam said. “God is good. We have never been to Disney and this means everything to us.”

Truth Community Church obtained the tickets after they registered for the Points of Light program. Points of Light is a nonprofit partnered with the Walt Disney Company to help mobilize people into action through volunteerism and service.

Truth Community Church pastor Keith Indovino said that close to 40 volunteers, including seven students from the Riverhead Middle School honor society, helped with last night’s event.

“We love to kick off Christmas season this way,” Indovino said. “We just want the community to have a good time and for them to know that God loves them.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Maria Piedrabuena

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María del Mar is a contributor to RiverheadLOCAL and the editor and founder of Tu Prensa Local, a Spanish-language local news outlet on Long Island. Maria has won several awards for her work, including a first place best column award from the New York Press Association. Email Maria