Giving Back and Giving Locally

Giving Tuesday is today, Dec. 1, and it reminds me that South Milwaukeeans always step up to help those in need — especially around Christmas, especially during the pandemic.

Don’t know where to start? Here are opportunities to give back locally.

  • Of course, I always turn to South Milwaukee Human Concerns, and they are serving more people than ever — sponsoring more than 700 children this Christmas alone, Executive Director Deb DeBoer tells me. She said they can especially use gift cards for holiday gifts for teenagers from places like GameStop, Walmart and McDonald’s, but please consider giving money, too. I know they can use it not only during the holiday season, but all year long. And why not give your time?
  • Get behind the South Milwaukee Industrial Museum, which opens as part of the Bucyrus Club next summer. Details and links to give can be found here.
  • “We serve.” That’s our motto as South Milwaukee Lions. They can use your support throughout the year, financial and in volunteer power, to in turn give back to local organizations in need.
  • Want to help the South Milwaukee Police Department? Support DARE. From Chief Jessup: “DARE is the largest, most recognized anti-drug and violence program in the world and is taught by specially trained police officers. Our officers go into the South Milwaukee elementary school classrooms to teach a series of one hour lessons designed to help young students cope with some serious risks. The topics include: learning the harmful effects of drugs, tobacco and alcohol, strategies for resisting peer pressure, and the damaging impact of bullying.  Any donations to the program go toward classroom supplies and graduation certificates.  If interested in donating, please contact Officer Jim McLean at”
  • The South Milwaukee Fire Department can use support for its in-school fire safety programs, and other public education efforts. Contact Chief Knitter ( to see how you can help.
  • South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center. Support the terrific performing arts in South Milwaukee, especially during the pandemic, with audience size and shows limited. Consider donating in person at one of the upcoming socially distanced holiday shows coming to the PAC. This Saturday, Studio K presents “Flamenco Nutracker,” and the South Milwaukee High School Theatre Company presents a radio show version of “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Dec. 11-12. Details here.
  • Speaking of the South Milwaukee High School Theater Company, I’m a big fan, and they can use you help. They’ve done really creative work during the pandemic.
  • Help the South Milwaukee Historical Society preserve our proud past, for our promising future.
  • Want to support classroom and other projects in our local schools? Start with South Milwaukee Legacy.
  • Or maybe help Friends of the Mill Pond and Oak Creek Watercourse or Friends of Grant Park. They do so much work to support our local parks, and they can use your volunteerism and donations.
  • And how about the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network? They are the nonprofit that will play a major role in bringing the Oak Creek Watershed plan to life by securing funding for and leading various watershed restoration projects.

Did I miss any? I’m sure I did. Send your favorite local charities along!

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25 Ways to Shop Local on Small Business Saturday

Every day should be Small Business Saturday in South Milwaukee!

Here are some ideas, with a reminder to shop safely and responsibly amid the pandemic. Shoppers and business owners, mask up!

  1. Local coffee makes a great gift from Avenue Coffee.
  2. Nothing says Christmas like meat products! South Milwaukee Sausage & Meats, specifically. Very cool new business.
  3. Nothing says “happy holidays” like jewelry, Check out C3 Designs.
  4. Pick up some holiday flowers or a centerpiece from one of our two awesome Milwaukee Avenue florists: Parkway Floral or Mari’s Flowers, Wine and Gifts.
  5. Buy gift certificates from some of our great bars and restaurants.
  6. Give the gift of fitness and health at the South Milwaukee Fitness CenterSorce Martial ArtsNeutral Ground … the list goes on.
  7. Games for Christmas? Absolutely! Shop downtown at Pink Bunny Games for trading card games, board games, table top games, and more. Also, check out the Board Game Barrister clearance center.
  8. Get a beautiful stained glass piece from Studio One Art Glass.
  9. We have boutiques! Check out Serendipitous Designs & GiftsHollyville, and Dupree’s for some truly unique holiday gifts.
  10. Think leather! Gecko Leatherworks has some terrific handmade items.
  11. Speaking of handmade items, shop local on Etsy! Buy a bandanna, jigsaw puzzle, notebook and other HANmade item — designed by South Milwaukeean Colleen McCarrier. Or some unique wood items from Dr. Box, a “family-owned business making wooden deluxe beverage transportation and extraction systems.” Do you live in South Milwaukee and sell handmade items on Etsy? Comment below with your link and I’ll see about including you on a future post.
  12. Buy Rocket, South Milwaukee and other apparel from one of our downtown t-shirt shops, Styled Aesthetic or JB’s Tee Shirt Factory.
  13. Military collectibles? You really need to see the museum-like atmosphere at Military Connection Collectibles.
  14. Staying with collectibles, check out South Milwaukee-based MEARS Online Auctions, which has one-of-a-kind vintage sports gear, toys, and military items up for bid as we speak. Wise Owl Auctions also operates from downtown South Milwaukee.
  15. Give the gift of performing arts with tickets to an upcoming show at the South Milwaukee PAC.
  16. Enjoy a children’s book from award-winning local author Janet Halfmann.
  17. Keep your vehicle running right with the gift of an oil change or three from a local car care center in our fair city.
  18. Get your holiday meal from a local caterer like Charlie’s Catering or Skyline Catering, moving to South Milwaukee in 2021 as part of the Bucyrus Club.
  19. Pick up a pie, bread or cookies from Wild Flour Bakery.
  20. And don’t forget holiday beer, wine and spirits from local liquor stores Chicago Avenue Liquor, Marquette Liquor, G&H Liquor or BJ’s Liquor.
  21. Give the gift of golf this Christmas, with a free round or three at Grant Park or other county courses.
  22. Know a disc golf fan? Stop by Acetime Disc Golf.
  23. Get a loved one (or you) a new hair style, with a gift certificate from a local salon. We’ve added several in the past year.
  24. Or get a tattoo, from Black Sheep Tattoo!
  25. And, finally, let’s not forget local chains, many of them owned by local franchisees — small business owners themselves — places like South Milwaukee Ace, Cousins, and others that all call our city home.

What did I miss? I’ve turned comments back on for this post, so please add your ideas. And shop local!

For more on local shopping opportunities throughout the year, follow my Shop Local South Milwaukee Facebook page.

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Thankful, For Our Health Care Heroes and Much More

On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m thankful for many things — family, friends, colleagues, co-workers.

I am thankful for my home, my health, my hope for a better future, knowing some do not have any of that. I’m thankful for the food I eat, knowing some will go hungry tonight.

I am thankful, and humbled, by the trust you have given me to lead this city during these most difficult of times. I am also thankful for our team of city workers, who continue to deliver on our promise of a promising future, in a year filled with historic and unprecedented challenges. Some are working this holiday weekend.

But today, I offer a special thanks for health care heroes. Their roles are many and varied at our hospitals, clinics, physician offices, senior care facilities, public health departments, and anywhere else workers and volunteers have stepped up to put their own lives at risk to help others during the pandemic. Many are working today, as our hospitals groan under the weight of a surging number of coronavirus cases.

Do you have a health care hero you’d like to recognize, or anyone else who has stepped up during the pandemic? Nominate them to flip the switch, as we light the city Christmas tree on Thursday, December 3. Here is the form.

Be safe, South Milwaukee, and do you part today and in the months ahead to help these heroes by living the common-sense measures necessary to see us through to a virus vaccine. Wear a mask. Avoid gatherings. Socially distance. Practice good hygiene. Isolate if you’re sick. Act responsibly. I can’t think of a better way to honor these people … especially on this Thanksgiving Day.

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The SHOP: Help a Local Business Owner Fix His S*%#

Tim Schneider, owner the The SHOP in South Milwaukee, regularly posts to his Facebook page how “s*%# gets fixed” at his vintage motorcycle repair business. Now, he needs the same thing.

Tim was recently diagnosed with cancer, and needs help to fund treatment.

Learn more about his situation in this story. From it …

Schneider was recently diagnosed with a cancer called Multiple Myeloma. Eventually, it will damage his immune system, kidneys, blood and bones. It’s incurable, but treatment can bring the cancer into remission and improve his quality of life.

It’s also extremely expensive to treat, and while the small business owner has health insurance, his out-of-pocket expenses and inability to do the hands-on motorcycle wizardry he’s know for, are only adding to Schneider’s burden.

So, Schneider’s friends, led by Evan Barnes, are stepping up. They’ve created a GoFundMe page, and in just a few days, they have raised almost $35,000 to assist in his out-of-pocket expenses. But they need to raise more.

Tim moved his business to South Milwaukee in 2016, relocating from Bay View and making a major investment to transform a former auto body shop into one of the coolest properties in town. Now let’s invest in him.

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City Council Passes 2021 Operating Budget

The South Milwaukee Common Council passed the 2021 operating budget on Tuesday. You can see it on our website here.

More details on my post from last week.

The city tax rate will increase 1.2% to $9.98 per $1,000 of valuation. The increase is a little higher than the levy increase of 0.99% due to a small reduction in equalized property valuation locally.

Budgeting is the most important thing we do as elected leaders, and I want to thank the council, city administration and all of our department heads for their work on it. Budgeting is a team effort in South Milwaukee, from building it to passing it to, most importantly, bringing it to life. That is where our front-line workers come in, and I thank them too. Forward!

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Festival of Trees: Reserve Your Tree Now!

An image from the 2019 tree display.

Caterpillar, Ace Hardware and the City of South Milwaukee are again teaming up to bring some holiday magic to the public space at 11th and Madison Avenues.

Trees, donated by Ace, arrive at the site on Nov. 24, are open for decoration by Dec. 15, and will be on display December 16 to January 1, weather permitting.

Do you want to decorate a tree, individually or as a team, group, organization, etc.? Email Karin Wierman at Caterpillar at

Thirty trees available are for decoration. Karin is asking each group to set up a time to decorate their tree, and that groups be kept under 10 people.

Please consider stepping up to be part of this new South Milwaukee holiday tradition. It’s an especially great opportunity for families.

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Old Fashioned Christmas Reminder: Meet Santa Today, Safely

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Christmas 2020: Join Us (Virtually) for Our Dec. 3 Tree Lighting — And Help us Recognize Someone Stepping up During COVID

It’s a Christmas like no other in 2020 — safe, socially distanced yet still special in its own way. That’s why we’re making our tree lighting virtual!

Join us on Facebook Live (city Facebook page) at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 3, or catch the recorded version. We’ll be featuring high school a cappella singers and a special guest. Here is the Facebook event …

We’re also adding a special feature this year: recognizing someone who has gone above and beyond to serve their community and help others during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you or someone you know deserves the honor of “flipping the switch” to light the tree, please sign up now using our Google form:

Deadline for nominations is noon on Monday, Nov. 30.

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Responsibly Stewarding Your Money: 2021 Budget Hearing Set for Monday

The proposed 2021 City of South Milwaukee budget was published earlier this month, and the public hearing is set for 6 p.m. this Monday. The City Council meets on Tuesday to consider passage.

You can see an updated version of the document — reflecting new data that has come in recently — here. Some highlights …

  • Revenues are expected to increase 0.08%, to $9.55 million.
  • Expenditures are expected to increase 0.58% to $21.88 million. 
  • The budget calls for a 0.99% increase in the city tax levy, to $11.6 million. The city’s net new construction growth from 2019 to 2020 was +0.07%; therefore the city’s base levy was allowed to grow by that same amount. This is the 13th straight year where the city’s net new construction growth measured 1% or less. The final levy increase is higher because the base levy limit imposed by the State of Wisconsin excludes post-2005 debt service payments. 
  • Health insurance continues to be a big burden for us, but we were able to bring down an initial proposed increase of 16% to under 10%.
  • The budget reflects the referendum passed in 2017, which has helped us keep funding for public safety stable and will for years. We have again segregated the extra revenue from the referendum to support the sustained funding of our paramedic program and the 2018 hiring of two new police officers. We feel it’s important to segregate the funds this way to ensure taxpayers can see the additional revenue is being spent in exactly the way we said it would. We will continue to deliver this transparency.
  • The published budget included a 2% across-the-board salary increase plus step advancement for general employees. Since the budget was published, the South Milwaukee Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 1633 and the city have come together on a new two-year contract, effective Jan. 1, that has a 1% pay raise on July 1, 2021; 2% December 1, 2021; and 2% July 1, 2022. The police union contract, which also expires at the end of 2020, is still being negotiated. 

Pandemic response will continue to be a priority in 2021. It has to. 

Of note, the 2021 budget does not include additional city funding for those efforts, as we continue to await additional support from the federal and state government (as what happened in 2020). Should that not come, which looks increasingly likely before the end of 2020 amid the partisan back-and-forth in a broken Madison and Washington D.C., we will be forced to look at various cost-cutting measures — or drawing from our budget reserves — to continue the fight, in hopes reimbursement comes later. 

This is a situation local governments across the state find themselves in as we continue to lead on pandemic response — and why it is so critical that lawmakers, President Trump, and Gov. Evers take action now to help. 

No matter what happens there, we continue to be responsible stewards of taxpayer money, and this budget shows it. 

Ask Moody’s. They have consistently reaffirmed South Milwaukee’s strong Aa2 bond rating and recently cited our “strong financial position” in doing so.

Ask the Wisconsin Policy Forum. They recently found South Milwaukee’s per capita municipal tax levy to be the third-lowest among Milwaukee County communities. Similarly, we stacked up well in their measures of net operating spending per capita (second lowest) and debt (also third lowest). Do your own comparisons here.

As I’ve said, we are overly reliant on the property tax in Wisconsin, and South Milwaukee. Studies have shown this over and over again. We need alternative funding solutions, to ensure we can continue to deliver the services you have come to expect from us, enhance them where possible and maybe add new ones. Until lawmakers have the courage to have this conversation and act, things won’t change.

And it only gets harder from here, as the state faces a huge budget shortfall for its next biennial budget, one that may see significant pain pushed down to local governments. 

I will fight against that, reminding state leaders the most important work of government happens at the local level. Our people provide the services you see everyday, and I can’t thank our department heads and front-line workers enough for delivering, in these most difficult of times. 

Making sure our people have the resources to do their jobs is one of our most important mandates as elected officials. I will never forget that — and I will support budgets that reflect it, like this one.

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Nominations Now Open: Light Up South Milwaukee Holiday Lights Awards

Visiting again this year, Santa’s elves will be back looking to honor the South Milwaukee homes and businesses with the best outdoor holiday lights displays. Winners will receive a yard sign and recognition on the city website and Facebook pages — and be the envy of your block, and city.

Submit your photo entries …

We will then upload entries to our Facebook page, with followers being able to vote for the best of the best. Deadline to enter: Noon on December 14. Voting will begin on December 15!

Please step up and support this COVID-friendly Christmas tradition!

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Input Wanted: Downtown Public Plaza Community Survey

From the City of South Milwaukee Facebook page …

We have developed multiple options for the planned public space at 11th and Madison Avenues based on your feedback. Please take this second survey to let us know which you like best. Take the survey here:

I’m excited to see the amount of community input so far into this significant downtown project. With that feedback, and a final plan coming soon, look for the reinvention of this space to begin in 2021, as we continue to fuel momentum in our city center. Promising future, indeed!

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It Starts With Us

The numbers are undeniable. And so is our need to act.

After a difficult week — where we saw 220 new confirmed positive cases in South Milwaukee from Nov. 6-13, by far our worst week since the start of the pandemic — we reported another 66 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend and two more deaths. We have now more than doubled our number of positive cases in South Milwaukee in the past month. 

Testing is up, but so is the percent positivity of those tests (now 23.3%). The vast majority of cases are symptomatic. Hospitalizations are at 7% locally, which means the virus has sent more than 80 South Milwaukeeans to the hospital since March. We’ve had 13 deaths.

The burden rate — an equalized measure of how active the disease is in a community — stood at almost 1,500 as of last week, far above what the school district and health department have identified as safe for a return to in-person education. 

You can see our current data on the city website.

Yet the impact must be measured in more than positive cases. Businesses, families, friends … so many are struggling, but I am most concerned with those tasked with slowing the spread, and caring for the sick. 

  • Health care systems are nearing, at, or over capacity. They are running out of hospital beds — and healthy workers to staff them — in some parts of the state. Advocate Aurora Health Care reported concerns last week.
  • Local health departments are increasingly overwhelmed, including ours. We and many others in the area have stepped back from contract tracing, which is so critical in slowing the spread of the virus. Instead, we are focusing on managing positive cases, asking those who test positive to alert their own “close contacts” about exposures and follow up.
  • Testing resources are strained. I can’t thank the South Milwaukee and St. Francis Health Department enough for leading the effort to stand up the South Shore testing site, along with health departments in Oak Creek and Cudahy. But the facility is operating at an unsustainable level, and we are planning to discontinue it on Dec. 9. As it stands, the site is regularly running out of daily tests. Lines are long, and street traffic has become an issue. They started out expecting to conduct 300 tests a day, administered through the Wisconsin National Guard. They are now administering more than 800, more than 100 per hour.

These are all red flags. We can’t ignore them.

We all want to get back to normal, and I’m hopeful that will come as we head into 2021, especially with a vaccine.

But what happens between now and then? What happens in the next three, six or nine months? That’s where we all need to step up, if we’re going to slow the spread and back away from the brink.

Yes, it starts with us. We need to help ourselves.

It starts with personal responsibility. It’s the same guidance health leaders have been sharing for months, and it takes on even more importance as we head into the holiday season. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Avoid large groups. Practice good hygiene. Isolate if you’re sick. 

No one is asking anyone to “live in the basement.” Rather, we all need to act smartly and listen to the words of public health professionals in living our lives reflective of a worsening pandemic. 

That includes businesses and organizations. They must also do their part. Many are. Too many aren’t. A quick visit to Facebook, or a walk in the door, shows who is, and who isn’t. 

We are in Phase B of health guidance. We need to follow it. 

For businesses who aren’t taking this seriously, who are ignoring the recommendations, I am not patronizing them. If their employees aren’t wearing masks, or if I see other signs they aren’t doing right by public health, I’m leaving. If they’re promoting potential superspreader events that fly in the face of common sense, I’ll take my business elsewhere. 

State and federal government leaders must also step up.

We are still waiting for the next round of CARES support, which will require Congress and President Trump to somehow work together even as he challenges the results of the election.

We also remain without a statewide plan for the weeks and months ahead. The legislature, given the power and encouragement to lead by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, still refuses to meet, even after the election. Lawmakers instead point fingers at Gov. Evers, who has been chilled by court rulings and the threat of further legal action from the Republican leaders with whom he is supposed to work. The Supreme Court heard the latest challenge to the mask mandate on Monday, days after Gov. Evers issued a series of “executive suggestions,” for fear of getting sued again.  

Local leaders are doing their best in this environment.

Last week, all 19 Milwaukee County mayors and village presidents, along with the county executive, sent a joint letter to Gov. Evers and legislative leaders asking for help. We did the same with our federal lawmakers before that, asking them to address this reality: COVID-19 relief funding “expires” at the end of December, but the virus won’t. 

The ask to Madison leaders was for … 

  • Increased testing capacity through development of a coordinated state and local strategic testing plan, including increased staffing at community testing sites and expanded testing availability;
  • Increased contact tracing capacity, specifically aimed at our schools and targeted concentrations of positive cases in our communities; and
  • Increased staffing for case management of the increasing number of positive cases in the state and region. 
  • We also ask you to commit to a specific amount of funding that will be made available to local governments through the Routes to Recovery program for community economic recovery.

And that’s just the start. We also need federal and state leaders to step up on a plan to further support our businesses, and help determine what’s next for our schools. For the latter, this measure passed by the South Milwaukee School Board and others is a good place to start. 

Then there is delivery of the vaccine. This needs to be coordinated by federal and state goverments to get as many shots in arms as quickly and safely as possible, starting with those who need it most. In other words, let’s learn lessons from our disjointed approach to testing, which has been one of the biggest failures of this country’s pandemic reponse.

This patchwork approach — where actions can vary across community and county lines — has been a fundamental problem throughout the pandemic. From day one, fighting COVID-19 has demanded nationwide and statewide solutions, leadership to bring us together around a plan for fighting a common enemy and reducing illness and death.

We needed unity to flatten the curve. We had that for a few weeks last spring. Then division — sometimes ugly — took hold, along with the virus.

That is how new positive cases double in a month.

There is still time to do better. There is still time for all of us to step up, ahead of a vaccine, and after. There is still time to put public health and personal responsibility first. There is still time to save lives.

Let’s start now.

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Thank Our Election Workers — by Accepting the Results

Democracy won on November 3. It won because of our local election teams. 

That is why I sincerely thank our City Clerk’s office and the dozens of poll workers for their work on the most recent election. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the way people vote in this country has changed almost overnight. Along the way, we as a city — and hundreds like us across the state, thousands across the country — have adapted with amazing success, learning, making improvements, and showing nimbleness and flexibility that is nothing short of inspiring. 

I am grateful for everyone who has had a role in that in South Milwaukee.

To those who are trying their hardest to find “irregularities” in the system, without evidence and with no likelihood of changing the results of the November 3 election, please stop.

I get it — many are not happy with the outcome. Me included! 

But publicly questioning the process, and refusing to accept the results, cuts to the core of our democracy — our ability to conduct and count the vote. 

I lost in my Assembly race on November 3. The next morning, I called Rep. Jessie Rodriguez and conceded, and sent a message to hundreds of my supporters doing the same — because that’s what we do in America. 

When political candidates lose an election in this country, they step aside. Incumbents help the new person transition. Challengers move on, while also holding the winners accountable, as I will do in the 21st Assembly District. 

They don’t, without proof, call into question the entire election. They don’t do what our president and countless other Republicans are doing right now. They don’t claim potential “irregularities” and “fraud” without proof, as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is doing. They don’t suggest throwing out the results of the election, as Rep. Joe Sanfelippo is doing. They don’t question the legitimacy of the election, as Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson is doing. And they don’t stay silent when their colleagues say these things.

Let’s be better than this — and remember that questioning “the process” is really questioning people, those same local election workers who stepped up in these most unprecedented of times. They are not abstractions.

Poll workers are your friends, neighbors, and family members — students, retirees and plenty other local residents in between on the front lines, delivering elections, doing their small part for democracy at $9.25 to $10.50 an hour, one vote at a time.

Claims against a fair and accurate election are really claims against them, and no one should stand for that. I don’t. I’m proud of their work in South Milwaukee, and you should be too. Let’s show it by respecting the results of November 3, whether your candidate won or lost.

This is what democracy must look like. 

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Places to Remember: Let’s Recognize Our Veterans, All Year Long

Today is Veterans Day, and while there will be no public event due to COVID-19, please join me in offering continued thanks for the service of so many throughout our 244 years as a nation, and 123 years as a city.

There are a number of sites across the area to remind you of the sacrifice of our veterans, including those who paid the ultimate price. Please check them out, on your own time, throughout the year.

Here are several options …

South Milwaukee War Memorial

South Milwaukee City Hall

South Milwaukee American Legion Post #27

Holy Sepulcher Cemetery

Legion post namesake Everheart Van Eimeren is buried at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Cudahy. He and two other South Milwaukee veterans buried here were honored in 2018.

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Celebrating a COVID Christmas in South Milwaukee

So many people work so hard to create so many special special events in South Milwaukee. That’s especially true during Christmas.

But that’s in a normal year.

With the pandemic deepening in our city, we have cancelled the City Hall tree lighting event, and the Lighted Christmas Parade is also callled off, aligning with crowd size guidelines. (We are looking at virtual options for the lighting.) The South Milwaukee Christmas Market is among the other events called off for 2020.

Here is what is still on …

  • Drive-Through Santa. The Old Fashioned Christmas Committee has created a unique, safe, and socially distanced opportunity on Saturday, Nov. 21, at two locations: City Hall and Blakewood Elementary. Check out the graphic for more information, and thank you to everyone on the committee for their creativity and hard work, as well as sponsors Eaton Corp. and the South Milwaukee Lions.
  • Festival of Trees. Caterpillar, Ace Hardware and the City of South Milwaukee are again teaming up to bring some holiday magic to the public space at 11th and Madison Avenues. Make your plans now to deocrate a tree, individually or as a team, group, organization, etc. Trees, donated by Ace, arrive at the site on Nov. 24 and will remain on display through Christmas, weather permitting. More details to come.
  • Light Up South Milwaukee Awards. The Beautification Committee will again be honoring the “best of the best” deocrated homes and businesses. Nominations will open soon, and voting will be done via Facebook. Start planning your award-winning displays now!

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