EL CERRITO -- It takes a village to raise a village when it comes to the annual Sundar Shadi Christmas display in El Cerrito. And there are opportunities to join the small village of people dedicating free time to see that it is on display this season and for years to come.
The core group is training to take over the display, a tradition started by the late Shadi more than 60 years ago, from the El Cerrito chapter of Soroptimist International, which has maintained and funded the display since its creator's death in 2001 at age 101.
The handmade folk art figures Shadi made -- more than 150 in all that make a scene of Bethlehem in Biblical times -- will be put in place on Moeser Lane at Sea View Drive on Dec. 15 after a day to assemble a shed and other infrastructure on the hillside site.
Two volunteers are needed for the shed work on Dec. 14, said resident Nina Anderson, who is publicizing the display.
This is an important role, carrying on the work of Gordon White, who has prepared the grounds to set up the figures (first on Shadi's Arlington Boulevard property and now on Moeser Lane, for 30 years).
"The two individuals will work closely with (and be trained by) the two wonderful volunteers who have done this job in the past," she says. "If you can adopt this project, and commit to helping annually (one day, for two to three hours), we'd love to hear from you."
Help will also be needed to set up the display Dec. 15, as well as taking it down Dec. 27. In between, people are needed as "shepherds" to staff the shed, welcome visitors and keep the pieces safe each evening.
Shadi was an immigrant from India who created the display, which annually attracts thousands from around the Bay Area for its sincere and decidedly noncommercial depiction, as his gift to the community.
Maintaining it today is almost a year-round task.
Volunteers, including El Cerrito artist Mark Canepa, work to restore the fragile pieces. Canepa, in fact, recently finished restoring the angel figure that was damaged after wind toppled it last year, and "it looks phenomenal," said Jane Bartke, who has shouldered management of the Shadi display for the Soroptimist chapter for 11 years.
Work is also being done to re-create the original music Shadi played over primitive outdoor speakers for his display.
"We would be ecstatic about getting any volunteers to help," said Bartke, who is turning over duties to a new generation.
"Groups are welcome," she noted, adding that Scout troops or service clubs could use it as an opportunity to promote their own community initiatives.
Ideas, outreach and other support are also welcome, said Michele Jawad, one of the first to step up to carry the display forward.
People interested in being part of El Cerrito's oldest ongoing homegrown Christmas tradition can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The display also has a page on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/ToUHEn.