A dab of glitter. Some twinkling lights. Delicate ornaments. Fresh balsam scent in the air. Branches in all shades of the rainbow. Nostalgia-tinged holiday magic. Mix these elements with the Saint Alphonsus Foundation mission and, this year, a mobile device or webcam, and you have the Saint Alphonsus Festival of Trees.
The annual event has been delighting and benefitting the Treasure Valley for 37 years. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the popular holiday tradition is moving online, spanning from November 19 to November 30.
“We want to capture the essence of light and goodness in a virtual event,” Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center Foundation Officer Nancee Bakken said. “Going virtual really opens up our reach, even to those who are not located in the Treasure Valley.”
If you’ve never attended in person, Festival of Trees features upwards of 80 elaborately adorned trees, along with some gorgeous wreaths. Teams of volunteer decorators come together to make the foliage festive, usually theming their tree around a color, holiday song lyric, or a film (Disney cartoons are popular). The donated greenery is then auctioned off.
“We typically sell about 80 percent of our items on Gala night,” Bakken said. “If you didn’t have a Gala ticket, you may not have been able to get a chance to bid on the tree you loved. This year, everyone can bid at the same time.”
When not meandering through the decorated forest or enjoying the thrill of an auction, patrons were treated to song and dance performances, the aforementioned Gala and Fashion Show, and visits with Santa Claus.
“We have 2,000 people make the Festival of Trees happen,” Saint Alphonsus Health System Vice President of Philanthropy Jill Aldape said. “It’s a year-round project. This year, obviously, everything has come to a screeching halt. The entertainers, the live performers, we just didn’t have a way to engage their talents.”
While performances aren’t part of this year’s Festival, Santa has a WiFi connection and no waiting time.
“People can sign up for a specific date and time for a customized Zoom experience with Santa,” Bakken said.
Santa, the trees, and the wreaths will all take up residence in the former Gordmans at The Village at Meridian.
“They’ve donated the space, which is really nice,” Aldape said. “Jack’s Urban Meeting Place (JUMP) has offered to partner with us as well, but we’re not sure if we’re going to be in two locations.”
While the location (or locations) are closed to the public, there’s still a lot of work to be done – albeit at a slightly more leisurely pace.
“We can let our timeline breathe a little bit,” Aldape said. “The Festival is normally compressed down to the minute of moving all the inventory in. Given the online model, we don’t have such a constraint. The decorating will happen over several days rather than an afternoon and a half.”
“We want the Festival to be creative, and everyone’s creativity is what makes it unique,” Bakken said. “We have never been able to pull off the Festival of Trees without the community.”
Bakken said while some longtime donors weren’t comfortable decorating a tree as a team, they’re still supporting the 2020 Festival financially.
“It’s been really humbling,” Aldape said. “Before we even knew how we would recognize the sponsorship and levels, people were calling and saying, ‘Oh, sign us up, whatever you do.’”
Since its inception, the Festival has raised more than $12 million. Different projects are chosen each year for the funds. Bakken said last year’s record-breaking fundraising allowed the Foundation to replace Saint Alphonsus’ mobile mammography unit.
This year, with the pandemic, the fundraising choice was obvious.
“(The pandemic) has underscored the mission of the Foundation,” Aldape said. “Our goal is to share the essence of the Festival of Trees in a virtual environment and raise as much from the community as we can for our COVID relief fund.”
That collective fund supports projects involving healthcare worker relief and resiliency, clinical education, and new patient access innovations, such as telehealth.
“We’ve had people reaching out to say, ‘What can we do to support you?’ I feel lucky to be able to connect those who want to support to those in need of support,” Bakken said.
While Festival sponsorship levels vary, Aldape and Bakken were both excited about a new level: The Giving Tree. You can donate any amount and add a sentiment to it.
“We hope people engage in that and will have their hearts warmed by what they’re reading from other people,” Aldape said.
To learn more about Festival of Trees, including Santa visits, bidding, or donating, visit saintalphonsus.org/festival.
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It Takes a Village
Jill Aldape, VP of Philanthropy (top right) and Foundation Officer Nancee Bakken look to the annual Festival of Trees as a key fundraiser for Saint Alphonsus. The record-setting 2019 event allowed the Foundation to replace the mobile mammography unit pictured above (pre-COVID-19).