Attendees at the 36th Annual Tree Festival found creative ways to prune their trees, some in the hopes of attracting the attention of the top bidders.

“It’s a point of pride,” said Mary Jones, a Pine Island resident who decorated her “Dark Romance” themed tree, taking inspiration from Gothic Halloween trinkets. Jones described the exhilaration of seeing someone fight to sponsor his creation. “It’s like ‘Oh my God! They chose my tree! “

Proceeds from the event support Hiawatha Homes, an organization that supports people with disabilities by providing home and community services. Ticket sales and sponsorships from families and businesses in the region are fueling the cause. Sponsorships range from $ 1,000 to $ 15,000.

The trees are being prepared for the Festival of Trees on Saturday, November 13, 2021 at the Empire Event Center in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

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Haley Landherr has attended the Festival of Trees since her childhood in the Rochester area. Now she is relishing the chance to volunteer.

“It’s great to really see the community come together to rally around a great cause,” said Landherr, publicity manager for the festival. The community rallied, even during the pandemic. Last year was the first where organizers exhibited the trees around the city center, giving attendees the opportunity to view them while staying socially distanced or in their cars. This tradition will continue this year the week of November 22.

The trees are decorated at the Empire Event Center, then packaged and carefully transported to their destinations. This is where glue guns and pins come in handy.

Mare Sloan and her mother Vesna decorate their “Just Keep Swimming” tree in preparation for the Festival of Trees on Saturday, November 13, 2021 at the Empire Event Center in Rochester.  Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Mare Sloan and her mother Vesna decorate their “Just Keep Swimming” tree in preparation for the Festival of Trees on Saturday, November 13, 2021 at the Empire Event Center in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

For many families, the event has special significance.

The Sloan family has participated in the Festival of Trees for two decades. Over the past few years, they’ve channeled the themes of the gingerbread man, Mickey Mouse, and the abominable snowmen. This year, they opted for an eye-catching “Finding Nemo” motif.

They spent weeks hand painting ornaments and signs for the tree, all bearing characters from the movie or key quotes.

Mare Sloane, who decorated with her brother Alan and mother Vesna, pointed to the “keep swimming” sign as she described why they chose the theme.

“With the way the world is, I think a lot of people can relate to that,” Mare said. This is especially significant given that her father was recently diagnosed with cancer, she said. The family needed a boost to keep their spirits up.

“Anyone can hopefully relate to it,” she said of the tree’s message.

Wendy Cook places an ornament on her 'Liberty House' themed tree as she prepares for the Festival of Trees on Saturday, November 13, 2021 at the Empire Event Center in Rochester.  Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

Wendy Cook places an ornament on her ‘Liberty House’ themed tree as she prepares for the Festival of Trees on Saturday, November 13, 2021 at the Empire Event Center in Rochester. Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

The event was also a family affair for Priscilla Gangrevenhof and her daughters.

“There are special stories and special moments for each tree,” said Gangrevenhof. She starts planning the tree themes a year in advance. In fact, she’s already landed one for 2022. But that, she said, will remain top secret for now.

“It’s more than just a Christmas decoration,” she said.


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