LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) -

For the last 22 years La Crosse has celebrated its special tradition of the Rotary Lights.

To kick off the holiday season, close to 3 million lights were switched on at the opening night.

The annual tradition seems to grow more special each year.

"Never would have thought that we would have made it to year 22 but here we are and the whole project has become kind of a holiday tradition and an icon for our area here," said Pat Stephens, president of the Rotary Club.

The tradition is known for its unique displays that light up La Crosse's night sky, but Stephens says it's the purpose behind the lights that makes the annual event so important.

"Our mission is feeding the hungry of the Coulee Region so we'll take care of 14 different food pantries during this next 37 days of operation and it should collect enough food to take care of them well into march if not April, and we're pretty proud of that and the community has just overwhelmingly responded to helping with both cash and food items," Stephens said.

He said none of it would be possible without the help of volunteers.

"We have a lot, well over 3,000 people helped put this up, take it down, fix, repair, whatever needs to get done, so it's a total community effort."

That effort paid off, as some even traveled all the way from Australia to experience La Crosse's biggest holiday celebration.

"A lot better than what I thought it would be, we don't have all of these sort of festivals like this in Australia so this is a really great experience it started when I was tagged in a Facebook post and I got really excited about it and I said yes we should definitely do this and I was so glad that I was able to come," said Beth Clark, who traveled from Australia to La Crosse.

There's no admission to get into the Rotary lights, but they ask that people bring non-perishable food items or make a monetary donation.

Last year the event collected 13,000 food items for local pantries and this year they anticipate collecting close to 300,000 food items.