When the Meadow Lake Hospital Foundation originally planted the seed of what would eventually grow into its annual Festival of Trees fundraiser, little did the group know of the continued success it would have even during the most difficult of times.

Although it took on yet another distinct look this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Festival of Trees – held Friday and Saturday (Nov. 26 and 27) at the Meadow Lake Civic Centre – brought in more than $50,000 for the organization and its efforts to purchase equipment for the local hospital.

“Our Festival of Trees campaign has raised $54,486 in sponsors and auction sales,” noted Meadow Lake Hospital Foundation president Tony Vandenberg when contacted this week. “We are continuing with our silent auction until Dec 3 on our Facebook page where the bidding is going well.”

Traditionally, the Festival of Trees includes both a live and silent auction along with a formal dinner held at the civic centre. The online component was introduced last year when COVID-19 restrictions prevented any in-person gatherings to take place.

“This year we have had very good community response,” Vandenberg said when speaking with Northern Pride Saturday afternoon. “We’ve already broken the $50,000 mark and are trying to get up to $100,000 overall.”

Also, as in past years, the festival featured a day-time component where parents and caregivers could bring their children to the civic centre to meet and to have their photos taken with Santa Claus. While auction items were on display at the same time, the event also included vendors for the first time.

“We are able to add photos with Santa,” Vandenberg continued. “That is bringing in more people to the civic centre. Being a larger venue, we have lots more room so we have added some vendors who are offering Christmas baking and such.”

The full total of how much money the Festival of Trees raises for the foundation will be determined when the online auction closes. Meanwhile, other fundraisers the group has held throughout the year include a Chase the Ace event, its annual golf tournament and various car bingos.

“With all that, we hope to hit that $100,000 mark by the end of the year,” Vandenberg said.

As for what items the foundation will purchase for the hospital this year, Vandenberg said items vary in terms of both equipment and supplies.

“We have been fortunate to have been able to provide many different items over the years, and, this year, we are looking toward the future with the dialysis program that is coming and its needs as well,” he said. “That will probably be a top priority in the next year.”

Among those pleased with the efforts of the hospital foundation is Dr. Gavin Van de Venter, chief of staff at the Meadow Lake Hospital.

“We find the money raised really helps us to buy equipment we not only really need, but which also makes work for the nurses and doctors much easier,” Van de Venter said. “We rely heavily on the effort the community makes each year. The foundation not only raises money, but is also involved with dispersing the money, so we are held to task and responsible for every cent. The money belongs to everyone in the community, and we want to be responsible with the funds. Thank you to all the volunteers and the work they have done to raise money for the hospital.”

Vandenberg also stressed the importance of groups like the foundation.

“Not everything can be funded by the provincial government, and the items needed here only help the community as a whole,” he said.

Looking ahead to a post-pandemic world, Vandenberg also said he is excited for the return of the live Festival of Trees dinner and auction, perhaps as early as next year.

by Phil Ambroziak