PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — With snow on the ground, dreams of brightly lit trees are not far behind.
The popular St. Apollonia Festival of Trees is gearing up for its eighth run starting Friday, Dec. 2, with its largest collection to date. All proceeds will benefit the St. Apollonia Dental Clinic in Presque Isle.
The festival is the major fundraiser for the nonprofit children’s dental clinic, and draws tree sponsors from all over Aroostook County. Since its beginning in 2014, the raffle event has raised nearly $500,000. Proceeds have grown steadily, from about $10,000 its first year to a record in 2021 of nearly $115,000.
“I often say that every penny earned at the festival goes into the mouths of the children of our communities,” said Dr. Norma Desjardins, the clinic’s executive director. “This is the biggest year yet, and we’re just so pleased to see such generosity and enthusiasm for our festival.”
Desjardins and her husband, Paul, founded the clinic to meet the needs of Aroostook County children who lacked dental care. Their mission is to put a smile on the face of every child, Desjardins said.
This year’s three-day festival will return to the former Sears space at the Aroostook Centre Mall. Opening day is Friday, Dec. 2, from 3 to 8 p.m. The event will continue Saturday, Dec. 3, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 4, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There are more than 80 trees planned this year, Desjardin said. Organizations, families or others sponsor each tree, bedecking it with lights and ornaments and loading the area around it with gifts. When the festival is open, people can purchase strips of 10 tickets for $5. As they view the trees, they will place tickets in the buckets at the trees they’d like to win.
Winners will be drawn Sunday after the festival closes and will be contacted that afternoon to pick up their tree.
New this year, people can also sign up online to buy tickets. Though the clinic can’t sell tickets online due to state gambling rules, people can reserve tickets and make the purchase at the festival.
“We had been thinking of how to offer advance ticket sales in order to reduce the lines getting into the festival,” Desjardins said. “It’s a trial year for this idea.”
Rather than stand in the regular ticket sales line, those who pre-register tickets will go to a line for pre-registered tickets, pay and collect an envelope with their tickets.
This year, nine tree sponsors have earned a five-year participation award, and 26 new sponsors will showcase trees.
Sherry Chamberland has chaired the festival since its start, and a group of devoted volunteers help make it happen.
For more details, visit the St. Apollonia Dental Clinic Facebook and Facebook Event pages.
Everyone loves the joy the event promotes, Desjardins said. People say it gets them into the spirit of Christmas and that there’s a special mood in the air during the event.
But for her, the best part is before the event starts, when sponsors come to set up their spaces.
“It’s fun to watch them bringing it all together,” she said. “The generosity is incredible.”