Money grows from these trees

Kennedy Krieger raises funds with Christmas sale


It's a Christmas tree with a disco heart. The well-coiffed conifer, clad in a tight white suit, struck a Saturday Night Fever pose on a small, lighted dance floor.

Its name?

John Treevolta, of course.

The disco-themed evergreen is one of about 300 donated Christmas trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses for sale this weekend at the Kennedy Krieger Institute's 16th annual Festival of Trees, an event that raises money to benefit children with developmental disabilities.

"There are lots of Christmas festivals, but this one's making money for a very good cause," said Elise Babbitt, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore-based institute, which treats children with brain-related disorders, from mild learning disabilities to rare genetic disorders.

Babbitt said she hopes the festival, which continues from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, will raise about $600,000 for the institute's research, treatment and education programs. Admission is $10 for adults. Festival proceeds also are generated by sales of the holiday decorations, which are designed and donated by individuals and businesses.

"Each year they try to outdo themselves," Babbitt said yesterday of the people who design the decorations.

Debbie Umarzai, a teacher at Baltimore's Montebello Elementary School, thought the designers did an impressive job.

"People's imaginations are incredible," she said yesterday after seeing John Treevolta. She heard about the festival at Montebello, where Kennedy Krieger has a program to assist pupils with developmental disabilities.

One tree, dubbed "Cavity in Training," was covered in chocolate bars, candy canes and gumdrops. Another, outfitted with sails and a treasure chest, had a plastic pirate skull on top. It was titled "Christmas, Arghhh."

Young inpatients at Kennedy Krieger also decorated a tree. Titled "There's No Place Like Home," it was covered in cards listing things the children missed while in the hospital. The list included pets, family, toys and Burger King. One card read: "I miss my mommy's cooking. - Greg."

According to Babbitt, the decorations were selling quickly and the three-day festival will probably attract about 30,000 people by the end of the weekend.

This year's festival, held indoors at the fairgrounds, also features carnival rides, musical performances, a chance to meet NASCAR drivers and look inside their cars, Nativity scenes and scores of vendors selling handicrafts and art.

"I love the crafts," said Gail McGlothlin of Parkville, who attended the festival yesterday. She and her husband, Greg, also wanted to show their support for the Kennedy Krieger Institute.

Their son, Jeffry, who has cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders, receives outpatient treatment at the institute. The McGlothlins said they depend on the help the institute offers.

"There aren't many places around here that can support Jeffry's needs," McGlothlin said. "They couldn't be any more wonderful. Everyone is so friendly and so supportive."

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