'Tunnels of Joy' Christmas display in Brentwood doubles as cancer fundraiser

A holiday display in Brentwood has taken on special meaning, doubling as a fundraiser for young people with cancer.

"It's always hard for us to select someone because everyone weighs on our heart," said Michelle Smith, a resident of La Costa Drive, and member of a committee called "the Joy-Makers."

This is the fifth year for the neighborhood's Tunnels of Joy, which expands on the usual holiday yard decorations.

Residents make the sidewalk part of the show by erecting PVC piping in an arc and wrapping it in lights for visitors to walk through.

"It's the experience, people can park their cars and walk around and talk and look, and point out their favorites," said fellow organizer Lisa Behrens.

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More than 100 homes now participate.

"Over time, one person would put up a tunnel then another person next to them would feel the pressure and put one up to compete or keep it going," said Behrens. 

Thursday night, the Rodriguez family of Antioch took the half-hour stroll, admiring the colorful displays.

Adrian Rodriguez, 3, is this year's fundraising honoree.

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He is fighting leukemia, but enjoyed a rare outing, scampering along the front yards. 

"We came here the first time last year, before his diagnosis and we were in awe of it ," said mom Markelle Rodriguez.

On the route, a prominent donation box collects funds to help the Rodriguez family with expenses as they miss work to care for Adrian.

Visitors can also scan a QR code to the family's Venmo account and contribute directly.

"There's a lot that isn't covered by insurance," said Rodriguez gratefully.

"As of Sunday we have to go to Oakland every day because he has chemo, so we have to go to treatment every day next week."

Donors who give $20 or more are eligible for a raffle with thousands of dollars in prizes from local businesses.

"No words can explain the amount of effort they're putting into this and and we don't even know anybody," said Rodrigez.

Added husband Adrian," I don't know how to thank these people, they don't even know us. We're grateful they're doing this for him and for us."

Three young cancer patients preceded Adrian in previous year's fundraising, and all are doing well. 

"The first recipient of the Tunnels of Joy was my sister who since passed," said resident Sandy Ybarrolaza.

Gweniviere Moronos battled breast cancer for 5 years before dying at age 43 in Southern California.

"It didn't matter that she didn't live here," said Ybarrolaza. "This neighborhood takes you in as a family, so your family is the La Costa family."

The Tunnels of Joy are open every day until the end of the year, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. with food trucks and entertainment on the weekends.

A Facebook page by the same name has details and information on helping the Rodriguez family, for supporters who can't get to Brentwood.

The immersive tunnels add to the expense and effort of decorating, but residents say they're worth it.

"Everywhere else is a drive-through," said Smith, "or get out, look for two minutes, then drive away. People stay here for hours!"

The Joy-Makers are especially thrilled to see repeat visitors every year and multi-generational families making it part of their holiday tradition.

"Their eyes are going to sparkle when they see your house," said Smith, "so it's a labor of love for every single person on this street."