Old Man Gloom does some good
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By Daniel J. Chacón
The New Mexican
Zozobra represents gloom and doom. But Santa Fe's famous boogeyman may also gain a reputation for doing good.
The Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe, which sets the 50-foot-tall marionette on fire
2015 Zozobra Ticket Sales Worldwide
each year during a one-night-only event in the fall that attracts tens of thousands of people from as far as Perth, Australia, plans to capitalize on Old Man Gloom's growing popularity to give more to the community and help save the environment.
"He'd probably be mad at us because we're doing something good," Zozobra event organizer Ray Sandoval said with a chuckle.
Zozobra was happy to sponsor Girl's Inc.'s Math & Science Spring Break Camp
The Kiwanis Club, a service organization that already uses proceeds from the autumn ritual to award scholarships to college-bound students and gives grants to various nonprofits, is launching initiatives to expand its presence in the city.
The club plans to sponsor at least one capital project each year. The other initiative calls for making the annual burning of Zozobra, which generates piles of trash and launches hundreds of fireworks into the air at Fort Marcy Ballpark, more environmentally-friendly.
As part of its first capital project in years, the Kiwanis Club is paying fordevelopment of a new playground for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Fe at the Zona del Sol Youth and Family Center in Tierra Contenta.
"We're very proud of our scholarship recipients and what they've gone on to do. We're very proud of the work of the other nonprofits that we support. But we really don't have anything tangible that we can point to and say, 'Zozobra did this,' " Sandoval said. "We want to start making very large investments in our community in substantial ways."
Rendering of the new "Zozobra" play ground at the Boys & Girls Club on the Southside
Roman "Tiger" Abeyta, chief professional officer of the local Boys and Girls Clubs, said the Kiwanis Club's plans to undertake at least one capital project annually will show the results of the organization's hard work and the people who support it.
"In our case, you're going to be able to actually come to our Boys and Girls Club on the south side and see a playground that wasn't there before," he said.
"He's doing good by being bad," Abeyta added, referring to Zozobra.
Sandoval said the Kiwanis Club has funded projects to benefit the community in the past. It purchased the original benches on the Santa Fe Plaza in the 1960s and also helped fund the pool at the Salvador Perez Recreation Center, he said.
"This is a little bit of us going back to our roots and saying, 'OK, we need to do these good things for the community,' " Sandoval said. "As Zozobra has gotten more popular, and we've been very good about holding our expenses down, we're able to give back more."
The initiative to make the annual burning more environmentally-friendly started when Sandoval asked Glenn Schiffbauer, executive director of the Santa Fe Green Chamber of Commerce, to assess last year's event.
"I was thrilled that somebody stepped up and said 'What can we do to make this better and greener and less impactful on the community?' What a surprise that it would be Zozobra," Schiffbauer said, laughing.
"You're talking about I don't how many hundreds of pounds of fireworks and burning a 50-foot puppet, so I'm sure I snickered when he first mentioned it because that's like starting at the top of the heap," he said.
Zozobra was happy to help fund Early Child Development this year!
Sandoval said the Kiwanis Club plans to tackle what he called the "low-hanging fruit" first, from banning plastic bottles to requiring vendors to provide only biodegradable plates and forks.
"We're looking into maybe solar light towers so that way we're not burning fossil fuels for all the light towers that we have," said Sandoval, who works for Public Service Company of New Mexico, the state's largest electric utility.
While the Kiwanis Club won't stop burning Zozobra and setting off fireworks, it plans to offset the emissions by purchasing trees "and have young kids plant the trees and use Zozobra as a teaching experience," he said.
"We think an appropriate use of some of our money is to actually teach kids about sustainability and climate change," he said. "What I hope to do is after about five years of doing this is to go to the City Council and say, 'Look, if Zozobra can tackle sustainability, then I think that our other annual events need to tackle it as well.' "
Sandoval said the Kiwanis Club plans to hire a consultant this year to perform a deeper assessment of Zozobra's environmental footprint.
"This is not a project where we go and we say, 'Well, we're going to look at how much Zozobra himself puts out in the atmosphere and we're going to plant trees and pat ourselves on the back,' " he said. "If the event is going to be sustainable, you have to look at what the entire event does."
Zozobra was happy to help fund Community in Schools this year!
The environmental efforts will generate additional costs, which the Kiwanis Club will try to offset with sponsorships, but Sandoval said it's still a worthwhile investment.
"If Kiwanis is all about kids, then what we need to do is we need to make sure we can hand off a good environment to our kids," he said.
Zozobra was happy to help fund YouthWorks this year!
Zozobra (Old Man Gloom) is a giant marionette effigy that is built and burned every year by the Kiwanis Club of Santa Fe to kick off Fiestas de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico. As his name suggests, he embodies gloom; by burning him, people destroy the worries and troubles of the previous year in the flames. Anyone with an excess of gloom is encouraged to write down the nature of his or her gloom on a slip of paper and it will be stuffed into Zozobra and burned.