Trees kicking off Christmas for a cause

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An annual festival decked the halls at the Okotoks Recreation Centre last week.

The Sheep River Health Trust’s Avenue of Trees event began on Nov. 16. It’s become a Christmas tradition for the health trust as more than 40 trees are decorated by local businesses and non-profit groups line the halls at the recreation centre to be auctioned off.

This year, proceeds from tree sales will go toward the High River District Health Foundation’s Delivering a Better Experience campaign to support renovations of the High River Hospital maternity ward.

“I really like the Christmas trees,” said Tanya Thorn, fund development officer for the health trust. “It’s really a neat event to see the creativity that’s out there and how everybody likes different trees. Even just the staff in our office, we all will like different trees for different reasons, so it’s really neat to see and hear how people respond to all those trees.”

People can vote in the Fan Favourite selection, which sees voting done through “likes” on each tree on the Sheep River Health Trust’s Facebook page. The decorators of the most popular tree will be awarded a $250 Sobeys gift card they can give to a charity of their choice.

Ten trees were chosen by judges on Nov. 16 to go up for live auction. In addition, ribbons were awarded in the following categories: Creative Genius, Whimsical Fantasy, Best Tree Topper, Christmas Nostalgia, Twinkling Star, Martha Stewart Proud, Child Fantasy, Spirit of Nature, Holiday Elegance, Under the Tree and Best New Tree.

Thorn said there are more new participants than usual this year.

“We usually average about five new ones, but I think we’re around 10,” said Thorn. “We had people phone us this summer and get on our list to get into the event this year.”

In its sixth year, she said it’s nice to see Avenue of Trees gaining traction in the community. People look forward to seeing the mosaic of Christmas trees, she said.

Trees are up for silent auction until Dec. 9, except the 10 reserved for live auction at the Mistletoe Market on Dec. 9. Often people will sponsor a tree by pre-purchasing it, or buy one through the auction, and donate it back to a family in need, said Thorn.

“We’ve always arranged the delivery to that, and I find that day a really touching day of seeing the joy that a Christmas tree brings to families that wouldn’t have one, and the joy that it brings to our donors in them being able to offer that opportunity,” said Thorn.

The health trust also hosts photos with Santa at the recreation centre. Time slots can be booked online in advance, and are available the weekend of Nov. 24 and 25, and throughout the week starting Nov. 27. For $50, participants receive a USB stick with every photo taken during the session, usually 20 to 30 photos, said Thorn.

Santa photos continue until the Mistletoe Market on Dec. 9, when 25 different vendors fill the Shane Homes Gymnasium at the Okotoks Recreation Centre selling Christmas gift items, as well as a craft station for children and a secret kids’ shopping area, she said.

“Kids can go in there, and we have helpers who will help them pick a gift for mom or dad, grandparents, siblings, whoever it might be, and wrap it up for them so they’ve got a gift that mom and dad don’t know about for Christmas,” said Thorn.

All items in the kids’ shopping area are $2, she said. Proceeds from photos with Santa and the Mistletoe Market will go toward remodeling and upgrades at the Okotoks Urgent Care, she said.

Last year the Avenue of Tree raised $25,000, and the total made from the entire event was $32,000, she said.

It’s a great way to get the holiday season rolling and raise money for good causes, said Thorn.

“I think it’s a great Christmas kick-off and puts everybody into Christmas mode,” said Thorn. “It just really kicks off the season for me.”

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