‘Christmas in July’ marks Festival of Trees planning efforts

Philip A. Janquart
Planning for the annual Festival of Trees fundraiser always begins as soon as organizers can catch their breath from the latest event.
 The big push, however, begins with Christmas in July, a time when Weiser Memorial Hospital Foundation starts bringing the grand picture into clearer focus, which, in part, involves recruiting the 350 plus volunteers that are needed to make it all a success.
 “We are kicking off July 31,” said WMHF Executive Director and Festival of Trees Chair Kimberly Burgess who took over managing the fundraiser last year.
 The theme this year is “Home for the Holidays,” with this year’s Gala scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 16.
 “We want to give people a heads-up about this year, that we have a lot of work to do and need volunteers,” she said. “We have a Festival of Trees planning committee, people who volunteer and manage different aspects of the event, which has proven really helpful.”
 There is a core group of about 20 to 25 who manage different parts of the Festival of Trees, a multi-day event aimed at raising funds for hospital departments who apply for grants to receive equipment or fill other needs on their wish lists.
 That core group of individuals manages many other volunteers under specific planning subdivisions. The planning committee meets bi-weekly.
 “There is someone who takes care of the Sip N’ Paint, the marketing, the Community Open House, the Christmas Store, and so we have those volunteer opportunities for people who want to get involved and give back to the community,” Burgess said.
 Historically, the Gala was held after Thanksgiving, on Wednesdays, but Burgess said it was moved earlier in the month because many people who bought trees wanted them earlier. 
 The move to a Thursday is to avoid conflict with various church activities and sporting events that typically happen on Wednesdays.
 It takes a lot of work and many hours to make the event successful and Burgess says there are volunteer opportunities in a number of areas, even if it’s only for an hour a week.
 “We need volunteers to help with decorating, setting up trees, delivering trees, handing out cookies, making hot cocoa, setting up the Community Open House,” she said. “We also have entertainment on Friday, Nov. 17, so we need people that sing or play an instrument. There are a lot of volunteer roles and without each of them, we wouldn’t have as successful of an event because everybody has different skill sets and talents they can offer.”
 Just setting up the Gala itself is a logistical feat. It starts with decorating the ceiling, with the Weiser Area Fire District providing assistance, followed by the walls, then 34 tables, silver and dinnerware sets for 272 guests and, of course, the trees. Last year, 109 volunteers spent countless hours over three days decorating them.
 Last year, the fundraiser brought in $87,000, this year’s goal is to raise $100,000. The money goes into a grant fund.
 “We have departments that reach out to us throughout the year and tell us they would like a specific type of equipment or training or to revamp or buy something specific for their department,” Burgess said. “They come and present to the foundation board and then the directors vote on and approve what grant requests they would like to fund.”
 Some examples of past funding include new bassinets for the labor and delivery department, a new Zoll R-Series training defibrillator for the hospital’s education department and, more recently, surgical orthopedic equipment that will aid the hospital’s new orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Matthew Elliott, whose first day on the job is scheduled for Aug. 1.
 “I want to encourage people that there are jobs, large and small,” Burgess added. “They are all a way to give back to the community and improve the Festival of Trees.”
 If you feel inspired to volunteer your particular talents, as well as your time, to the cause, contact the Weiser Memorial Hospital Foundation at (208) 549-4412 or email foundation@weiserhospital.org


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