DULUTH - Despite the wind and cold temperatures, nearly 250 candle-lit luminaries shone about the grounds of the Gwinnett Medical Center-Duluth on Thursday night.
The lights, purchased for $20, were part of a holiday event called Lights of Love and Remembrance - an event to raise money for the Congregation Health Ministry Parish Nurse Program.
The ministry, established in 1994, is a program connecting faith communities and churches with parish nurses for physical and spiritual care.
The event brought about 200 community members, children and hospital supporters together to celebrate the holiday season, enjoy refreshments and remember friends and family members who have passed away or deserved honoring.
Jean Holley, registered nurse and director of congregational ministries, said she was pleased with the amount of people who attended in support of the program.
"I'm very excited about the amount of people who showed up," she said. "We always wish it could be more, but it was great."
She said the nurses raised nearly $6,000 from the sale of the luminaries and donations given to the cause during the night - only $4,000 away from the ministry's goal.
"We're going to keep taking donations after tonight, and I'm confident we'll reach our goal," Holley said. "We still have people mailing in donations."
Christmas songs filled the room, with melodies sung by two local children's choirs, in addition to the luminary service.
Twelve prizes were also raffled off to the crowd, each person got a free raffle ticket as they entered the event.
All the prizes were donated from local businesses as well as the hospital.
Although it was the first year for the program, community members and children said they enjoyed the program and would come again.
"I think it's a real good program," said Lilburn resident Linda Byrd, a mother of two children who sang at the event as part of the Hopewell Christian Academy Power Choir. "It's a great way to honor others."
The children who attended the event enjoyed face painting and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, who entered to the tune of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."
"I spoke to Santa," said David Whiteman, 7, of Duluth. "I also got two gifts."
Linda Hughes, a clinical nurse educator for the health ministry, said all proceeds collected from the luminary purchases are going to help continue the work of the parish nurses and help churches become part of the Congregational Health Ministry.
Holley said people can continue to donate to the cause by remembering someone with a donation to the ministry. She said although the luminary service was only for the one night, those who would like to make a donation will have a special card sent to the person honored or to the family or loved ones of the person remembered.
Holley added that the nurses plan to host the Lights of Love and Remembrance celebration again next year.
"We hope people will make this part of their Christmas celebration every year," she said.
For more information about the program or to make a donation, call (678) 442-4634 or visit www.gwinnetthealth.org.