Festival of Trees raises $595,000

By Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Contributor

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Kevin Shulko with his wife Tracy, who decorated 12 out of 32 trees for the festival, and Cindy Amerongen, Executive Director of the Northern Lights Health Foundation. Photo by Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

It’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays. And, with gala season in full swing in Wood Buffalo, there’s much to celebrate, especially for the Northern Lights Health Foundation (NLHF). The group’s annual three-day Festival of Trees raised $595,000.

Festival of Trees ran from November 18 to 20. According to officials, “140 sponsors, 250 volunteers and 7,000 guests came together to enjoy the 27th annual (event).”

MacDonald Island hosted a variety of festival events, most of which were immediately sold-out. These ranged from a Ladies Holiday Luncheon complete with a fashion show to family favourites like the weekend-long Santa’s Workshop. An Ugly Christmas Sweater brought out the oddities in holiday wear, and the fun side in many. Saturday’s Gala, however, remained the jewel in the festival’s crown with hundreds of guests enjoying the festivities in Nexen Field House. Local organizations donated 32 trees, which were bid upon during a live auction, garnering $409,000 alone.

Kevin Shulko, Festival of Trees Chair for the last two years, was delighted with the reception for the events.
“I think it’s a really big event despite the tough year we’ve had. It’s a good event to bring everyone together. It’s something the community looks forward to that builds excitement for more good things to come. The hospital foundation is something everyone uses. It’s a great cause to support,” noted Shulko.

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Generation Dance Studio performers pleased Gala guests throughout the night on November 19 with group and solo acts. Photo by Stacey Northcotte, Foto Source Photography

Cindy Amerongen, Executive Director, NLHF, enjoyed her first Festival of Trees as the group’s head. She appreciated the community coming together to support the health foundation, and talked about her four months in office as executive director.

“The Festival of Trees has been absolutely fabulous. What more can we ask for. I want to thank all of our sponsors, volunteers, donors, and everyone who came out to support our events.”

“I’m learning about all the interesting programs at the hospital. The public health, and all the outreach programs we do, and understanding the deep core of mental health here. The supports our mental health team is putting in place after the wildfires, and as a result of the economic downturn. Watching all this, and seeing where the funds go has been amazing. I’m really happy to be on the team. It’s going to be a big job no doubt, and I hope to do it for a long time,” Amerongen shared.

And, speaking of wildfires, Amerongen noted, the Festival of Trees became even more important on many levels this year for the region.

“A lot of people have been wondering how to celebrate Christmas, or how to get out, and be part of something. When you open the doors for three days like we have, and host everything from children’s events to this gala, then you’ve brought back that access point to the community that says, ‘come on in, this is for you.’ People want to be with their friends, and connected to the community, and that’s what’s happening here.”

Following the six to eight weeks after re-entry in June, Amerongen noted, the hospital saw an estimated 700-800 per cent increase in usage over the previous years. While some numbers levelled out, others still remain startlingly high where we should be as a community.

“This means we continue to need the support for local services. Not just for mental health, but for surgeries. I don’t think anyone wants to go down the highway for anything if they don’t have to. The more we can do here, and the more we can attract world-class physicians locally, the better it is for us,” said Amerongen.

– Connect Weekly –