A sluggish economy hasn’t slowed the enthusiasm of volunteers nor the generosity of donors for this year’s version of the Festival of Trees.
Co-chairs Heidi Dandurand and Lynette Grose couldn’t hide their enthusiasm and pride for their fellow volunteer workers and sponsors during the final minutes Sunday of the week-long event at the Westerner Grounds.
Final numbers for patrons and money raised won’t be known for a few more days once the ledger sheets are compiled, Dandurand said.
“It’s just been awesome,” Dandurand said.
“For the economy being as tenuous as it is it’s simply fantastic,” she added.
Grose said 500 more volunteers were on board this year than last year’s tally of about 1,800.
“The festival continues to grow and we simply need more people every year,” Grose said.
“It takes a lot of people to make this happen,” Grose said.
The volunteer dinner this year attracted more than 1,400 people.
“This year we also had a volunteer drive to increase the number,” Grose added.
Both women have been with the festival for about 10 years and say it never ceases to amaze them how many people give so selfishly of their time and effort to make it work.
Leanne Kettle was determined to be one of the last people out the door when it closed.
“My kids don’t want to leave. They’re having so much fun.
“It’s a real treat for the kids to see that people can help one another through something like this,” Kettle said.
Nine-year-old Amy Miller said she wished she could take the trees home with her.
“They’re all so pretty. I’m going to try and get my mom to decorate ours like that one,” she said pointing to a flashing and flickering tree covered with canes and other ornaments.
The tree auction participation was terrific, Dandurand said.
“There was huge dollars raised at the live auction during the sponsors dinner,” Dandurand said.
The number of decorated trees put up for auction was significantly higher than last year.
This year about 70 trees went on the block compared with about 40 last year.
The parade in downtown Red Deer and lighting of the tallest Christmas tree kicking off the festivities earlier in the week were highlights, Dandurand said.
This year about 3,000 children and adults helped entertain the crowds at the Westerner.
Groese said just walking down Candy Cane Lane and seeing the amount of sparkle on the floor is a measure of the participation.
Both women said they knew the weekend was going to be good.
“We ordered that snow on Friday you know. It made it just like Christmas should be,” said Grose laughing with her partner.
Last year the festival raised $753,000 which was down from the $1.1 million in 2007.
Prior to the week organizers hoped about 24,000 people would attend the festivities which would be the same as in 2008.
Money raised is for special projects at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre through its foundation.
Since its inception in 1993 the festival has raised more than $5.7 million.