Celebrating the 30th year of the Holiday Tree Festival

Cap and Bootie Tree

Cap and Bootie Tree

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes.

Some come wrapped in boxes; others fit in bags. In the case of Akron Children’s Hospital’s annual Holiday Tree Festival, one gift can fill an entire convention center.

“The Holiday Tree Festival is Akron Children’s gift to the community,” says Heather Jalbert, who just finished her sixth year as the festival’s chairperson. “It’s become a family holiday tradition that spans generations. It means so much to the people in our community.”

Originally founded in 1982 as a way for families to celebrate the holiday season, the event has grown into a larger-than-life spectacle, held at the John S. Knight Convention Center in downtown Akron. It requires 87,000 strands of lights, more than 1,000 volunteers and features hundreds of glimmering trees, each with its own theme.

“My favorite part of the event is the set up,” says Lori Baker, who began volunteering for the festival in 1993 and serves as the current public relations chairperson. “I love to watch the transformation of the trees as the decorators bring their creations to life.”

Holiday Tree Festival Chair Heather Jalbert and Co-Chair Mary Leuca

Holiday Tree Festival Chair Heather Jalbert and Co-Chair Mary Leuca

The festival always kicks off with a Preview Gala in which attendees enjoy a sit-down dinner and dessert and have the first opportunity to purchase trees and other decorations. In 2011, William Considine, President and CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital, Children’s Miracle Network Hospital’s Champion for the state of Ohio Brad Harris and his sister Miracle opened the festival at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The 2011 festival ran through Nov. 27. In addition to a magical display of trees and holiday decorations, visitors enjoyed music, entertainment, face painting and visit with Santa.

“It’s incredible to see how much this event has transformed in 30 years,” says Madeline Bozzelli, who started volunteering at the event during its very first year, when there were just 70 decorated wreaths and trees. “None of this would be possible without our tree sponsors and decorators. This year was bigger and better than ever!”

The festival also is a gift to the patients of Akron Children’s. Proceeds from the sales of trees, wreaths and bows, as well as gift tables, donation boxes and more, benefitted the hospital’s areas of greatest need. The festival also included a car raffle, and its proceeds benefitted the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The 2011 Holiday Tree Festival was the largest ever raising more than $240,000 for the hospital. 

Preparation for the event takes months of work by volunteers, some of whom spend a full year making this happen. But volunteers insist that the joy of the event is a gift that more than makes up for the time they sacrifice.

“The excitement in the air at the festival is contagious,” says Margie McDonnell, a former event chairperson who’s also decorated trees since 1992. “You develop true friendships and camaraderie when you’re involved in a worthwhile event like this. It’s just so special for all of us.”

A gift that keeps on giving
Publication: Children's Progress
Issue: Winter

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