HOULTON, Maine – Snow fell in large gentle flakes as the last holiday tree hopefuls cast their tickets for favored trees inside the 100-year old big red barn on Foxcroft Road on Sunday just before 2 p.m.
And by late evening the winners for the 50 elaborate holiday trees had been notified and the total raised for the Houlton Health Services Foundation Festival of Trees was revealed at a whopping record $95,000.
“My goodness, what an exciting day and evening,” said Houlton Health Services Foundation Executive Director Lori Weston who organized the fundraising event. “There are no words to express how thankful we are to the donors of the trees and to every single person who bought a ticket. Now we have to count our change and verify our deposits but we raised over $95,000.
The money raised from the annual holiday event turns into life-saving equipment for the hospital, equipment for first responders, nonprofit area health care clinics and safety equipment for youth sports teams, Weston said.
The annual event, now in its 10th year, draws thousands of visitors from all over Maine and Canada, said Weston.
“There were more people than ever this year. We had people from Biddeford, Canada, Madawaska,” she said.
And this year’s event topped last year’s $71,000 total raised by $24,000.
What really makes the event fun, is to see the inventiveness in the various tree creations, Weston said.
The Houlton Regional Hospital OB Department’s tree theme is Barbie. And the Friends and Needles Quilt Guild’s tree is packed with handmade items like mittens that they hope the person who wins the tree will give some mittens to others, Weston said.
“It’s a gift,” she said. “Not only do you get a decorated tree, but you can give things away as gifts to others.”
Visitors purchased raffle tickets for the trees at $1 each and dropped them into a bucket in front of the tree. Some people dropped in more than 40 or 50 tickets in hopes of winning one of the many prizes.
Alexandra Collins of Houlton said she picked her three favorites for tickets.
Much of the credit for the event’s success goes to the tree donors who were so generous, said Weston.
The decorated trees were not only beautiful, they were packed with gifts, some trees totaling over $2,000 in gift cards, cash and items. There was a mystery tree made up of wrapped boxes totaling $1,000. Another tree loaded with handmade hats and mittens and another that had over eight gift cards, $500 off a set of tires and other gifts.
A local welder, Russell Stairs, welded a unique metal tree that was decorated with bottles and made a metal barrel chair and metal garden cart filled with gifts. Sadie’s Bakery donated an electric fireplace, the mantel topped with holiday gifts. Cooks on Maine’s tree was loaded with foods, a side table, cooking equipment, cheeses and candies.
There were camping equipment trees, woodworking tools trees, and others loaded with stunning ornaments, toys and hand knitted stockings.
Weston said such an outpouring of generosity from the community and all the people who came to the event, even on cold, rainy and muddy days, was stunning.
“I have been weeping all evening,” Weston said. “The word unity fits the event perfectly.”