Helena Festival of Trees celebrates the stories that make up our lives | Local
The 34th annual Helena Tree Festival kicks off on Wednesday December 1 with the theme “Once Upon a Time in a Christmas Storybook”.
Intermountain sees this theme as a celebration of the stories that make up the lives of everyone in the Helena community and the interactions that improve each other’s lives, according to Beth Wheeler, the organization’s senior development officer.
Depending on the theme, a large Christmas tree made of books adorns the main stage. Wheeler did it herself, and she’s the only person who knows how many pounds it took to shed. She said there would be a prize for whoever guessed closest.
This year, community and commercial trees are themed with books such as “Harry Potter”, “Mary Poppins” and more.
The festival at the Helena Civic Center is the largest annual fundraiser for Intermountain, a nonprofit organization that helps children, teens and families struggling with emotional or mental health issues or substance use. This year there are 17 trees donated by organizations and individuals from the community. In total, there are 23 live auction packages, 30 or more silent auction packages, and over 150 other items donated to Intermountain for auction.
“I would say there are hundreds of local businesses and individuals who have donated,” Wheeler said. “Every object upstairs, for example, is a family who worked on it. It’s both very humbling and heartwarming.”
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The event will take place over five days starting Wednesday with Tea in the Trees. Thursday will take place the Evening in the Trees event with music by The Caseys. Friday will be the Starlight Gala and the annual live auction. On Saturday will be the Jingle Bell Jam with music from Ten Years Gone. Finally, on Saturday and Sunday there will be the annual Family Fun Days featuring Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.
The silent auction will run until 4 p.m. Sunday. Items can be auctioned by texting a number on a sheet in front of the item or by visiting intermountain.org/fot. A drive-through pickup of items won at the silent auctions will take place Sunday at 6 p.m.
With a fun family passport, families can collect stamps from local businesses and hand in completed passports for a chance to win prizes.
Wheeler said there were eight businesses hosting a tree this year, including 1889 Coffee House, The Base Camp, Flying Giant Adventure Park, Staggering Ox, Lewis and Clark Library, Funky Trunk, Capital City Health Club and Farmers State Bank. on Last Chance Gulch.
This year’s festival is kind of a comeback for Wheeler and Intermountain. In 2020, capacity was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Intermountain remains cautious but is able to move forward with greater capacity. Wheeler said that one of the ways organizers do this is by having staggered entry times for things like family days.
“It’s really nice to be able to offer the opportunity to come together again,” said Wheeler. “But we also wanted to have other options for those who can’t come or feel unsafe. This event is such a tradition for the community that it’s worth the effort to make sure. that people can participate. ”
According to Wheeler, the festival wouldn’t be possible without the community members who put so much time and effort into setting up an exhibit each year. She said more than 40 committee members are planning the event and more than 300 people volunteer during the week of the event.
Ami Pillatzke and his family make a tree to display each year in honor of their grandfather that was housed and cared for by Intermountain’s predecessor, the Montana Deaconess School, as a child.
This year, Pillatzke and her family knew right away what they wanted to do when they heard the theme: “Mary Poppins”.
“My grandmother loved Mary Poppins. She would always read the books to us and we would watch all the Disney movies together,” Pillatzke said. “We knew right away what we were going to do. She would love if she was here to see this.”
Pilatzke and her family recreated the nursery scene with help from donations from local Ashley Furniture store. They’ve also teamed up with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana, which features a separate display featuring Mary Poppins’ park scene. The two displays are articulated in a collaboration not often seen at the Festival of trees.
A group of former and current Intermountain employees put on a huge demonstration for the event.
“I want to stress that we do this because we are really passionate about the work of Intermountain and the organization itself,” said Laura Funk, therapist at Intermountain. “Having current and former employees who volunteer their time and resources is a testament to Intermountain’s deep value and mission.”
Jessy Kappelman, Clinical Supervisor at Intermountain, said she is also very passionate about the work she does at Intermountain and volunteering for the Festival of Trees.
“It’s a way to further strengthen partnerships in the community and promote the agency’s mission and values,” Kappelman said. “The Festival of Trees is our largest annual fundraiser, and community generosity supports the ability to provide service to youth and families in our community.
Wheeler confirmed that the festival often accounts for 20-25% of Intermountain’s annual operating budget. It enables the organization to provide mental health services to more than 1,200 children across Montana.
“Supporting Intermountain is supporting our community,” said Wheeler. “We want to create healthier scenarios for the children we serve.”
If you would like to support Intermountain or purchase tickets for a festival event, go to intermountain.org/fot.