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Festival of Trees: A gift of love

Each year, trees and wreaths are decorated and auctioned to benefit Primary Children's Hospital.

December brought a sizable amount of donations to Primary Children’s Hospital because of the Festival of Trees.

Since its beginning 45 years ago, the Festival of Trees has raised over $35 million. Each year, elaborately decorated trees are auctioned to raise money for children in need of medical care.

The annual event requires extensive planning and preparation in hopes of raising enough money to make a difference to families in need each year.

Approximately 30,000 volunteers contributed countless hours and resources to accommodate more than 100,000 people that come to The Festival of Trees during the four days of operation in early December.

Everything that makes up The Festival of Trees is donated. Families, businesses and organizations purchase and decorate the trees. Businesses provide the paper used for advertising. Corporations even help deliver trees.

In December, they boasted a total of 750 trees, dozens of gingerbread houses, quilts and wreaths.

On Dec. 2, they held an auction where a local gentleman donated thousands for a wreath. When asked how much he would like to spend, he noted an amount and spent it on a single wreath because he wanted to do his part in providing a gift of love for the children.

“I am so grateful for The Festival of Trees. Without them, Primary Children’s would not be one of the leading children’s hospitals in the nation,” parent Amy Portman said. “My daughter has spent weeks at a time at Primary’s, and the amount of care both medical and emotional is bar none.”

The sky is the limit in terms of tree design. Alien Undies, Care Bears, Disney characters, Marvel heroes and Tiffany jewelry adorned trees this year. Every year, there is a Coca-Cola-inspired tree, along with trees from rival universities Utah State University and Brigham Young University.

The Salt Lake Community College successfully obtained donations from famed athletes to create a tree called “Sports for Christmas.” It included a Derrick Favors jersey, a Real SLC jersey, Thurl Bailey’s size 17 shoes, basketball, Jennifer Demko’s (a ballerina with Ballet West) slippers and so much more — all with autographs.

Many trees are dedicated to loved ones’ passings. A large, flocked tree entitled “Have Courage and Be Kind” was decorated in a Cinderella theme of blue and gold, complete with a lit carriage. The tree honors a Jenny Nelson Lambourne and her 11-year-old daughter Brooklyn, who drowned in Bear Lake while trying to save an 8-year-old cousin.

In 2016, The Festival of Trees raised over $2.6 million for children at Primary Children’s Hospital.

“Kapai’s Angel Tree” was adorned with angel wings and heavenly images dedicated to 2-month-old Kapai (which means blessing in Pohnpeian) who was born with a heart defect. His parents insist he is now their guardian angel.

Ashton Wagner was born with full Trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome), which is terminal. She is now 18 years old. Wagner attends a special education school where she has many friends. Her family is grateful she is there and doing so well. She loves music and purple, a theme incorporated in her tree, “Ashton Loves Music.”

Every child who spends time at Primary Children’s Hospital receives medical care possible regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. Primary Children’s Charity Care Program ensures funds are allocated to ensure quality care programs.

“Each year, people amaze me with their generosity and their commitment to a greater good,” Francis Morgan, executive board member, said.

Nearly 50 years ago, a group of women along the Wasatch Front wanted to find a way to raise funds for Primary Children’s Hospital. The Women’s Endowment Committee, led by Betty Wells, began by selling tickets to the Ice Capades and other small-scale projects. They aspired for more.

When Co-Chair Ruth Flint attended a Christmas boutique in Hawaii, she realized the concept of decorated Christmas trees and wreaths, a gift boutique and a sweet shop would bring the donations they had hoped for.

That first year, $47,000 was raised after displaying and selling 60 full-size Christmas trees in the gymnasium at the old Armory in Salt Lake City. It didn’t take long for the program to change its name and location. The Festival of Trees is now held at the South Towne Expo Center in Sandy, Utah.

The event is a staple to Utah residents. Organizations throughout the United States and Utah do their best to replicate The Festival of Trees, but it remains the most successful of them all.

“Decorating a tree in memory of my daughter who passed away was the most rewarding experience knowing all its proceeds helped other children like mine,” parent Aaron Vaughn said. “In a sense, it helped close a chapter for our little family.”

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