A healthy income from pretty trees

A stellar fundraising idea

November 25, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Ten woman gathered in a Bel Air residence to decorate trees, not for their own homes but for an auction that raises funds to fight cancer. Their decorative efforts were part of the second annual Festival of Trees at the Bel Air Armory.

Pat Cieri wrapped a wide strip of gold ribbon around the top of an artificial miniature pine tree, wove it through the tiny branches and pulled it around the tree trunk.

"I'm going for an ethereal look," said the Jarrettsville resident as she stepped back to look at the tree. "Once I get the ribbon on, I'm going to string white lights on the tree. I'm hoping that the gold ribbon combined with the lights will make the tree sparkle more."

Cieri and others, working at the home of Kathleen Fox, were trimming trees for the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance's two-day festival, which opened yesterday at the Armory.

The event includes a live auction of the more than 40 trees, seasonal entertainment and Mrs. Claus reading stories to children. The younger visitors can decorate a gingerbread house - or just a gingerbread man - make a handprint plaque out of soft, durable paper and put together a picture frame. The cost is $1 per craft per child.

The Chesapeake Cancer Alliance coordinated the Festival of Trees to benefit LifeNet, an outreach program offered through Upper Chesapeake Medical Center for families coping with cancer.

Event coordinators hope to raise about $20,000, double what was raised last year, said Fox, co-chairwoman of the event.

Alliance members, searching for possible fundraising options, came up with the Festival of Trees notion last year. Fox took the idea and ran with it, she said.

"I believe people don't mind donating money, as long as they get to have fun doing it," Fox said.

For many of the volunteers, LifeNet's mission hits close to home. Several of the alliance members said they donated their time to the project because cancer has affected their lives in some way. Rob Catterton decorated a 9 1/2 -foot tree in green and gold ornaments last year. It sold for $875 at auction. In March, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and is undergoing chemotherapy. While he battles the illness, his mother, Kitty Catterton, has taken over the decorating task this year.

"I am touched by the opportunity to give back to the people who support cancer patients and their families," she said as she hung an ornament on the "12 Days of Christmas" tree.

Each tree's decoration followed a theme set by the donor or the decorator. Several area businesses have sponsored a tree and given decorators free rein.

Entries ranged from rustic to formal, with themes based on everything from Harford's rural roots to the ethereal, with fairies and angels adorning the branches.

The decorating party at Fox's home provided many trees, while others came from individuals. Jeanne Stratmeyer of Bel Air gave three trees to the festival - two adorned with birds, nests, and hand-painted birdhouses. She went with a beach theme for the third, which included a starfish tree topper, tiny flip-flops, flamingoes, tropical drinks and beach umbrellas on its boughs. Choosing the themes for her trees was simple, she said.

"Everyone likes something in nature," she said. "And I enjoy anything to do with the beach."

Kitty and Bill Pickett of Bel Air chose a song from the musical The Sound of Music and decorated a 7 1/2 -foot tree in "My Favorite Things" mode. The couple collected snowflakes, doves, owls, jingle bells, and white Christmas roses with raindrops. From those, they fashioned ornaments inspired by the lyrics of their favorite song. The tree, valued at about $600, comes with a blue tree skirt accented with crystal snowflakes.

"I was given the task of finding people to donate trees, and I caught the bug myself," Kitty Pickett said. "Donating a tree is a great way to have fun and make a contribution."

The Bel Air Decorative Painters, a group of about 50 artists who promote the arts, dubbed their tree "Harford County: An Artist's Dream." The 6 1/2 -foot tree, valued at about $1,500, holds about 225 ornaments, hand-painted with local scenes, popular landmarks and images of well-known residents. Marcia McCutcheon of Baldwin coordinated the work and helped design the ornaments for the project, which took about 500 hours to complete, she said.

Wooden mittens - painted with pictures of Kimmie Meissner skating, Cal Ripken playing baseball and Michael Phelps swimming - hang from the artists' tree. The Concord Point Lighthouse, Harford County Courthouse in Bel Air and a skipjack are painted on other mittens.

"We created a story that depicts this place that we call home - Harford County," McCutcheon said. "I think there is something on the tree that will appeal to just about anyone."

The event is being held at the Bel Air Armory on Main Street from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today. Admission is $5 per person. Children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

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