Eric and Nicole Peterson have always loved the Christmas season and have often spent it creating intricate light displays at their Fridley home. But this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they decided to add a food donation box at the front of the display to help people in need.

“I got the idea after last year’s light display when Eric said he wanted to go bigger this year,” Nicole said. “I thought to myself, if we’re going to go big, we should do something to get the community involved as well, but I didn’t know how. When 2020 started to get a little rocky I started thinking it would be a good idea to do a good donation (drive) this year since it’s been a roller coaster of a year.”

Since Thanksgiving, the Petersons have been collecting nonperishable food donations for the Southern Anoka Community Assistance (also known as SACA) food shelf in Columbia Heights. Their goal is to reach 1,650 pounds of food. As of press time, they’ve delivered 1,192 pounds of food to SACA and have eight boxes of food waiting to be delivered. Eric’s mother, Janet Peterson, has been helping with deliveries to SACA.

“We never expected to get as much quantity as we have,” Eric said. “It makes us feel good.”

“When I told Eric I wanted to do a donation box we both thought we will be happy if we get 500 pounds because we know we are doing something great,” Nicole said. “It makes me feel over joyed and a loss for words at the outcome we have had so far! To hear from Eric when he goes to drop off the donations just how happy they are to be getting all these donations especially around the holidays makes me feel overjoyed and happy.”

SACA is a nonprofit located at 627 38th Ave NE, Columbia Heights, and has been serving the communities of Columbia Heights, Hilltop, Fridley, Spring Lake Park and northeast Minneapolis for 44 years. SACA has a food shelf, thrift store and emergency services program.

On average, SACA serves 1,400 families, or 3,400 people, each month and distributes almost 58,000 pounds of food.

SACA Co-Director Dave Rudolph said the number of clients has increased to more than 4,000 people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Donations are very important this year,” Rudolph said. “We’re seeing a large increase of people in need due to the pandemic. Donations of any type, whether it be monetary or food, is greatly appreciated.”

Rudolph said the Petersons are among a number of people who have been working hard to get donations for SACA.

“People have been generous this year,” Rudolph said. “It’s so gratifying to see. Those that can have stepped it up this year. It has been nothing short of amazing.”

The Petersons are accepting nonperishable food donations through Monday, Jan. 4. The donation bin is along the curb of their home at 6390 Starlite Blvd., Fridley.

The Petersons have been leaving candy cane treats for donors on top of the donation bin and also holiday gifts on a nearby table for donors to take for themselves or give to someone in need. The gifts include sweaters, onesies, bibs, hats, mittens, socks, shirts for adults and children, and more.

“I want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the people that have donated,” Nicole said. “Without your generosity, we wouldn’t be able to help all the families we have already. We’re truly grateful to be living in such a great community.”

The Petersons’ light display runs daily 5-11 p.m. and includes 11,450 lights. The display has dozens of figurines, a lit archway over the driveway, a light projection show on the garage door and blinking lights on trees that are choreographed to Christmas music playing from a speaker in front of their home.

“This year we kind of figured, why not go as big as we can,” Eric said. “It’s kind of a pain in the butt, but to see the end result and see people drive by ... and see the enjoyment, it also gives me and my wife enjoyment. It’s worth it.”

The Petersons plan to create an even grander light display in 2021.

“We’re currently thinking of bigger and better things for next year,” Eric said, adding that they have the ability to do up to 130,000 lights.

They also intend to make a larger SACA donation drop box next year.

To learn more about SACA, visit or call 763-789-2444.


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