INNISFAIL – Momentum is gathering in town to launch the inaugural Festival of Trees, a free holiday season event created to inspire community-wide kindness, charity and the unforgettable experience of being part of bringing joy to children whose special heartwarming wishes come true.
“My favourite part of Christmas was when you walk in and see somebody’s tree and decorations and it takes your breath away,” said Riki Findley, who is the festival’s creative director. “That moment of awe, and to have that as a community reaction would be incredible, especially after having a couple rough years.
“It would be nice to have that beautiful, inspiring and warm moment that everybody could just look forward to on a town-wide scale.”
The idea for Innisfail’s inaugural Festival of Trees came from local businessman Dale Dunham who originally planned a variety show fundraiser for the end of January. But there was concern it would not be doable due to provincial COVID indoor gathering restrictions. It was dropped but Dunham thought about a Festival of Trees event he was part of when he lived in Victoria, B.C.
“To see these families or single parents with their kids coming and wanting to help other families just pulled on my heart strings. It was just such a beautiful thing to see,” said Dunham.
A committee was then created. It now includes Dunham, Findley, Bill and Norma Hoppins, Brandi Laughlin, and Crystal Kemp.
“I think this event is an example of when communities define themselves by how they gather, and for the purpose which they gather, so we are gathering to make lives of those not as fortunate as us better, and it weaves us together in a stronger societal community fabric,” said Bill Hoppins, the secretary of the committee.
Innisfail’s first Festival of Trees, slated to run for three weeks from Nov. 19 to Dec. 12 in the common area of the Innisfail Library/Learning Centre, is a partnership between the Town of Innisfail, Christmas Bureau, Innisfail & District Chamber of Commerce, Innisfail Kinsmen, Rotary Club of Innisfail, McMan Youth, Family and Community Services Association and Salvation Army.
There are also more agencies considering their involvement and the committee is reaching out to all local churches as well.
The inaugural event is also a way to raise funds and awareness for its new initiative, the Santa’s Wish List, and to help fund and increase awareness of other local charities that are focusing on families, children and seniors.
“It’s our first year. Hopefully we are blown away,” said Laughlin, the committee chair.
For the Festival of Trees, Laughlin said there are a variety of ways to raise funds, including sponsorships of trees for interested businesses, organizations, families and individuals. There are three sponsorship levels, from $250 to more than $750.
Sponsors are provided with a pre-lite artificial tree they then decorate with their own supplies. The trees must be decorated by Nov. 17 or 18.
Laughlin said the trees, which she hoped would number at least 15, will ultimately be auctioned off. They will be featured on the website for people to view. They will also be judged – best branded, most creative and most festive. However, citizens voting and bidding on the trees must do so in person. The voting and bidding closes at 5 p.m. on Dec. 11.
As for the Santa’s Wish List initiative, the planning has already been extensive, and still being fine-tuned.
Event organizers will have a list of local families and children in need, which they will collect from various organizations, including schools and local social service agencies.
“Children will be given an ornament to decorate and to write on the back their wish, their name and age as well,” said Laughlin. “Those ornaments will be placed on the Santa’s Wish List tree, which will probably be in the centre of the common area.
“Families and individuals can come and pick an ornament to purchase the gift,” she added, noting the gifts can then be brought unwrapped to the town, The Coffee House or the Innisfail Public Library.
For wish cards not signed out, a gift will be purchased from fundraising money. There is a price limit of $75 for each wish. The delivery plan for the gifts is still being worked out, but will likely include volunteer support and involve the Christmas Bureau and the Salvation Army out of Red Deer.
“I don’t think finding volunteers will be hard for this,” said Kemp, the committee treasurer. “Everybody loves any kind of Festival of Trees, anything Christmas related.
“As a mom of little kids this is totally something they love doing too,” added Kemp. “As a parent to be able to volunteer and show them the true Christmas meaning, it is perfect.”
For more information on the Festival of Trees email email@example.com or visit the website at www.innisfailfestivaloftrees.ca