by Christel Swasey

Health Fundraiser For Sick Children: The Festival of Trees

What could be more heartbreaking than to see or hear the story of a suffering, sick child?  The idea of not having sufficient funds to help heal a sick child is agonizing.  Happily, fundraising does work.

Nationwide, different approaches to children’s health fundraisers abound, from  forwarded email pleas to collection jars in grocery stores, to fundraising dinners and t.v. telathons.

But I love the fundraiser that has been happening for over forty years, every year at Christmastime in Salt Lake City:  The Festival of Trees.  I like it because it gives in all directions:  to the children, to the festivalgoers, to the tree donors, and to the tree recipients.

The Festival of Trees raises funds that serve children at the Primary Children’s Hospital. One hundred percent of the funds from Festival of Trees benefits children at Primary Children’s Medical Center.  Last year, the hospital spent $12.4 million to serve 13,587 children’s hospital visits.

This was my first year going to the festival, but it won’t be my last.

The number of festivalgoers last year was about 95,000; yet, despite the huge numbers of people, I noticed  a the mood of the crowd was reverent, rather than boistrous.

I tried to guess how many beautifully decorated, brightly lit Christmas trees stood in perfect rows.  They were great!  Each one had a unique, whimsical, beautiful, or hilarious, theme.

I could not guess; I had to look up the number.  The press release said there were over seven hundred trees.

Each tree had been donated, magnificently decorated.  Most trees included not only a tree, its lights and decorations, but many additional treasures that were part of each display.  I saw dolls, cars, sporting equipment, camping equipment, toys, furniture, candy, books, games, blankets, and many other gifts.  And it wasn’t just trees!  There were rows of gingerbread houses, gingerbread huts, gingerbread palaces, gingerbread barns, and gingerbread churches.  There were rows and rows of quilts;  rows and rows of wreaths; a craft boutique; a children’s games-and-crafts area; food areas, and pretty, lit stages with live Christmas performances going on.

When our family got to the festival, very few trees were actually still up for sale.  There were still quilts, wreaths, and other itmes, but most of the trees had been purchased– quickly, and at high prices.  I think the very least expensive one I saw cost $300.

I was later informed by a neighbor who had decorated and donated a tree in memory of her baby granddaughter, that most people who purchase trees end up having them delivered to the homes of those who cannot afford such opulent trees.

Not only do tree purchasers’ payments go to save lives at the Primary Children’s Hospital, but many of the purchasers direct the transportation volunteers to transport their purchases to homes other than their own.

This whole festival is one big win/win.

The festival public gets a huge dose of Christmas Spirit, viewing the trees and the creative splendor surrounding them.  The sick children get the funds raised to help heal them.  The tree donators, whether individuals, families, or corporations, get the fun, camaraderie, and joy (not to mention a little free advertising in the case of corporations) by decorating their trees.  The purchasers get the trees, or in many cases, they get the joy of giving a fantastic tree to a needy family.  And those gifted recipients of the trees get to keep the beautiful trees, decorations, and attached gifts.

Many of the trees displayed this year had a framed photo near the tree, with a sign that said things like, “In Memory of Our Maggie” or something.  There were pictures of children, babies, missionaries, and elderly people.  Even though the stories behind the photos and their trees were not revealed, visitors felt the mixture of love, grief, and hope that accompanied many of the trees.

I found myself teary eyed, both because of the obvious love behind these trees, and because of the obvious sadness of the untold stories. But I also laughed.  One tree’s theme was the movie “A Christmas Story.”  It was decorated with a pair of broken eyeglasses, a pair of pink bunny slippers, little wooden signs featuring funny lines from the movie, and yes– the fishnet stockinged leg lamp came with the tree.  I wonder who bought that one, and what they paid.

Other themes that I particularly liked were the nativity creches, the Santa themes, the elf themes, the fairies, the trains, the camping setup, the fishing dream, ballet, a peppermint palace, dollhouses, Snoopy, the movie “Tangled,” gingerbread land, oranges, Raggedy Ann and Andy, U.S. Soldiers, local universities,  Dr. Seuss, the beach, and so many more.

I learned, too, that many physicians at Primary Children’s Hospital donate their services to charity care patients.  Every penny raised at the festival supports the hospital’s charity care mission, including specialized equipment and programs like music therapy, bereavement counseling and more.

What a warm, wonderful holiday tradition.

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