Festival of Trees raise funds, awareness of Crittenton Center’s valuable work

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Attendees at a previous Festival of Trees take in the large assortment of Christmas trees decorated by designers and ready to buy. With more than 80 trees, the 10th annual Festival of Trees to benefit the Crittenton Centers kicks off this year at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the First Federated Church of Peoria’s Life Together Center at 3601 N. Sheridan Road. (Photo by Kristin McHugh-Johnston)

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the First Federated Church of Peoria’s Life Together Center, where the Crittenton Center’s 10th annual Festival of Trees will kick off Thursday, Nov. 15, with a cocktail party.

The four-day festival is Crittenton’s biggest fundraiser of the year and helps the agency further its mission to protect and nurture children and families.

“The Festival of Trees is extremely important to our operational budget,” said Abby Colvin, the agency’s special events coordinator. Fundraisers make up about 18 percent of the agency’s $2.2 million annual budget, with 36 percent coming from government funding, and the rest from contributions, United Way and local grants.

Originally conceived as a maternity home for unwed mothers in 1892, the agency now offers three core services, including a crisis nursery, child development center and educational and support services.

The Festival of Trees begins with a Jingle & Mingle cocktail party from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the First Federated Church, 3601 N. Sheridan Road.

Tickets, which must be purchased in advance at https://e.givesmart.com/events/bu3/, are $50 each and will include drinks, hors d’oeuvres, live music and a first look at more than 80 designer trees being offered for sale this year.

New this year is mobile bidding, which will begin at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15. Anyone can bid on items, whether they attend the festival or not, by first texting FOT10 to 52182 or visiting the website https://FOT10.givesmart.com.

“With the new mobile bidding this year, you can see pictures of everything you can bid on and you can get text notifications if you get outbid on something,” Colvin said. It will be the only way to place a bid this year.

General admission to the festival will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16. General admission at the door is $6 for adults and $3 for seniors and children.

Tabletop trees like this one will be up for sale in a silent auction via mobile bidding at the Crittenton Centers’ 10th annual Festival of Trees, which runs from Thursday, Nov. 15, through Sunday, Nov. 18.(Photo by Kristin McHugh-Johnston)

Saturday, Nov. 17, will begin with a Brunch & Bubbly event from 9 to 11 a.m. Tickets are $35 and must be purchased in advance at https://e.givesmart.com/events/bu3/. The event will include brunch, drinks, admission to the festival and a decorating demonstration by Sara O’Shea.

General admission hours Saturday are 12 p.m. to 5 p.m., with family events such as a visit with Santa, children performers, activities and games being offered until 4 p.m.

General admission hours Sunday, Nov. 18, are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A Sweet Sundae Tea event will also take place that day from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m., including lunch, a sundae bar and live performances. Tickets are $25 each and must be purchased in advance.

A team of designers led by Kristin McHugh Johnston has been working on decorating trees since July, Colvin said. While the overall theme this year is Winter Wonderland, the artificial trees come in all sizes and styles with a variety of themes.

The larger and more elaborately decorated trees typically sell for $1,000 to $2,000. On the lower end, decorated wreaths typically go for a couple of hundred, Colvin said. An “out-and-about” tree will include gift certificates for different Peoria-area businesses.

“There’s something for every price range and something for every taste,” Colvin said. “We have things that are whimsical, we have little kid things, we have sports-themed trees. There are so many different types of Christmas items, that you just can’t go wrong.”

In addition to trees and wreaths, the event will offer centerpieces, table top trees and hearth and home items. Sandwiches, cookies and drinks will be available for sale during general admission hours, and a holiday marketplace will feature local crafters and vendors.

The Festival of Trees was the brainchild of Vicki Hosek, Sara O’Shea and Jennie Armstrong 10 years ago when the agency was looking for a signature event that would gather families together to make them stronger during the holiday season.

In the beginning, volunteer designers used donated trees and decorations, but the committee is now given a small budget to purchase trees and decorations. The lights and decorations are hardwired on so the trees are designed to last many years, Colvin said.

Delivery can be arranged for the 4 1/2-foot trees and the 7 1/2-foot trees. Federal Companies is donating its time to make those deliveries.

Last year’s Festival of Trees brought in just under $100,000, and the agency is hoping to beat that goal this year. Organizers are anticipating more than 3,000 people will attend.

More than 80 full-size Christmas trees, tabletop trees, wreaths and hearth and home items like these will be offered up in a silent auction with mobile bidding at the Crittenton Centers’ 10th annual Festival of Trees, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, in Peoria. (Photo courtesy of Crittenton Centers)

Among first-time attendees this year will be Peorian Maria Dolce.

“I have never been, but Christmas in my favorite holiday. I think going to see all those trees and decorations will be a great way of putting me in the holiday spirit,” she said.

Besides raising funds and kicking off the holidays, the Festival of Trees is also a way to raise awareness about the services offered at Crittenton Centers, Colvin said.

“I think the public is very aware of our crisis nursery, but I’m not sure they know as much about our other two programs, which are getting people out of the crisis mode,” she noted.

The agency provides about 31,000 hours of crisis care annually through emergency intervention and respite care, crisis counseling and support services to families facing stress related to domestic violence, parenting challenges, mental health issues and other situations that put children at risk. All crisis nursery services are provided free to parents who reside in Peoria, Tazewell and Woodford counties 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The Child Development Center offers child care and early education services for up to 90 children ages six weeks to six years from the Peoria area. The Family Services program offers home visits, group outings and monthly parent workshops that focus on positive behavior management and healthy parent/child relationships.

For more information about the Festival of Trees or the Crittenton Centers, visit the website www.crittentoncenters.org or call (309) 674-0105.