Photo by Jeff Stokoe/Advocate staff Festival of Trees elves gathered in their workshop Tuesday this week and are getting close to being finished with their preparations for the festival later this month. The group is just finishing up the last of the 34 trees they will adding to the corporate trees. See related story on page 3.

The 23rd-annual Festival of Trees kicks off in Red Deer next week

Like busy elves in Santa’s workshop, Red Deer-area volunteers are stringing twinkling Christmas lights, hanging glass ornaments and wrapping garlands around faux fir trees.

The annual Festival of Trees fundraiser for the Red Deer Health Foundation, which run from Nov. 24-27 in all three Westerner Park pavilions, is the official kick-off to Christmas for many Central Albertans.

But it’s actually a year-round labour of love for hundreds of volunteers.

Planning for this year’s festival — one of the highest grossing and most successful in North America — started back in January. The 2016 goal is raising more than $1-million for the expansion of the Medical Specialty clinics at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

People with chronic illnesses, including multiple sclerosis, are already treated at the one-stop hub clinics. But staff want to add Parkinson’s patients and people with inflammatory bowel disease to their client roster, said Alaine Martin, events manager for the foundation.

Since exam rooms can’t accommodate people with mobility issues, these spaces need to be expanded and made wheelchair accessible, added Martin.

An estimated 2,500 volunteers will be needed to put on the 23rd-annual festival, including teens in the kids’ crafts and games booths in Candy Cane Lane.

Crews are already “working tirelessly to transform all the Westerner pavilions into a winter wonderland,” said Krista Spelt, who’s co-chairing this year’s event with Kathy Saunders. The gargantuan effort includes rearranging rooms for various events — from a seasonal luncheon to a daddy-daughter dance, to a Festival of Wines.

Tree committee chair Debbie Coleman has been volunteering since 1996. As a nurse, she believes in the festival’s cause, likes the family vibe, and is a Christmas person. “You’d have to be,” she wryly noted, since she brings sparkles home on her clothing.

This year, 65 Christmas trees will be decorated in pop-culture and nature themes. Bids will be taken on prizes — including trips to Hawaii. (All bidding is being done on cellphones — see Text 2 Bid instructions at www.reddeerfestivaloftrees.ca).

Gingerbread houses will be raffled off, there will be Santa Shops for kids, and also for adults, and entertainment from bands, choirs and dancers. For the first time, a five-km walk/run will be held from 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 26 on the park trails on the north side of Delburne Road, across from the Westerner. (Register on the website).

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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