Festival of Trees expands to include the storefronts of downtown Port Huron

It’s not easy to change tradition, and that’s especially true when the holidays are involved. For years, the annual Festival of Trees would fill the Blue Water Convention Center with dozens of fantastically decorated Christmas Trees, each of them designed and decorated by members of the community to then be raffled off to festival-goers. The money raised would help benefit the McLaren Port Huron Foundation, which uses the funds for key infrastructure and equipment upgrades for the hospital.

Last year changed all that. Given the risks of the COVD-19 pandemic, the McLaren Port Huron Foundation took the bold step to change the Festival of Trees as we know it; rather than host a large, in-person gathering at the convention center, the Foundation instead held a smaller, safer Festival of Trees at the hospital itself. The Christmas Trees were installed in the lobby and windows, and people could come see the trees at their own leisure — and from within their own socially-distanced bubbles, too.

Still, despite the “smaller” version of the festival, the 32nd annual Festival of Trees would go on to be one of the foundation’s most successful iterations of the fundraiser. The money raised from the 2020 festival would be used to purchase endobronchial ultrasound bronchoscopy, or EBUS, equipment for the hospital. EBUS equipment allows for the early detection and treatment for lung cancer.

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks

This year, the Festival of Trees is expanding in scope and size. Much of the 33rd annual Festival of Trees will remain at the hospital; COVID-19 still poses too much of a risk to return to a large, in-person gathering at the convention center, organizers say. But for the first time ever, the Festival of Trees is expanding to the streets of downtown Port Huron itself. Nine participating businesses will feature festival Christmas Trees in their storefront windows, displaying them for passers-by and all to see.

“We're really excited about it and so are the stores. We're starting small, just in nine locations, but we hope that it will be successful and something we can expand on in future years in downtown Port Huron,” says Jamie Guyor, philanthropic officer for the McLaren Port Huron Foundation.

“Everybody has been really great and super supportive. The businesses have been great and the designers are really excited to be able to display their trees in a different way, as well. So we hope it's a win-win for everybody.”

Although the Christmas Trees have already started going up, Thanksgiving marks the official beginning of the 33rd annual Festival of Trees. The Christmas Trees will stay up through New Year’s Day, when they’ll then be packaged and delivered to the winners of the annual raffle — more on that later.

Funds raised from the 33rd annual Festival of Trees will be used to help purchase equipment to enhance breast imaging services in the Demashkieh Women’s Wellness Place at McLaren Port Huron.There will be 17 Christmas Trees available to view at the hospital, found in the South, North, and Karmanos lobbies. In downtown Port Huron, participating businesses include Amerifirst Home Mortgage; Ben’s Fine Furniture; Casey’s Pizza & Subs; 
District 43 Shoes; Papaya Branch Boutique; Patrick & James Menswear; Sperry’s Moviehouse; Weekends; and Wells Fargo Advisors.

“The Papaya Branch Boutique is proud to be participating in the 33rd annual Festival of Trees, supporting the McLaren Port Huron Foundation. We are very honored to be sharing in this event as we have expanded our business in downtown Port Huron. The tree in our window will mean more to us than just a holiday window decoration; it will symbolize ‘community’ to us and our visitors during the holiday season,” says Laura Lyon, owner of the Papaya Branch Boutique.

“In partnering with McLaren Port Huron Foundation, we are confident that we will bring additional awareness to the Festival of Trees which will increase exposure and support for our community.”

Expanding in a safe way

As Lyon says, the Christmas Trees found in her and her neighbors’ windows mean more than “just a holiday window decoration.” McLaren Port Huron Foundation raffles off the trees each year, with the funds raised going back into the hospital. In 2019, the festival helped raise money to complete the new James C. Acheson Heart and Vascular Center. In 2020, the fundraiser helped purchase the aforementioned EBUS equipment.

This year, funds raised from the 33rd annual Festival of Trees will be used to help purchase equipment to enhance breast imaging services in the Demashkieh Women’s Wellness Place at McLaren Port Huron. The Hologic Upright Breast Biopsy Guidance system features 3D stereotactic biopsy capabilities, which enhances imaging capabilities and creates a better patient experience. With the Hologic system, physicians will be able to biopsy lesions that are only visible with tomosynthesis imaging, while delivering a lower X-ray dose and reducing a patient’s time under compression.

It’s no wonder then that the community enthusiastically turns out to help design the trees. This year’s event will feature a total of 35 Christmas Trees, 27 of which will be available in the raffle. The 17 trees at McLaren Port Huron and 10 trees found downtown will be available to the general public; an additional 8 trees found in the interior of the hospital are reserved for hospital employees.

Ashely McLeod is a returning designer — and also a hospital employee.

“Christmas is my favorite Holiday,” she says. “I love to share my creativity with the community and be able to give back and participate in events at work. I really enjoy participating each year and showing another side of me to my coworkers. It’s so fun to spread joy with everyone.”

In addition to the Christmas Trees, McLaren Port Huron Foundation is also raffling off gift boxes. There will be five gift boxes in total, each with its own theme. A technology package features an iPad and AirPods; “Santa’s Toy Box” features gifts for children, including Legos, a soccer ball, and more. Other prizes include a gift card and lottery ticket package, a Blackstone Grill, and an Xbox.

Raffle tickets for the Christmas Trees and gift boxes cost $1 and are available online.

On Friday, Dec. 3, the First Fridays event in downtown Port Huron will feature the nine Christmas Trees found in the storefronts there. It’s a chance to further connect McLaren Port Huron with the community that it serves. It’s a way of saying thanks, says Guyor, and a component of the event that could become a big, new part of a favorite tradition.

“We were really trying to figure out how we can continue to engage the community and expand the festival in a safe way. And we really wanted to take the opportunity to partner with downtown Port Huron and the local businesses. They supported the hospital so much throughout the pandemic that we want to do the same for them,” says Guyor.

“We hope that this will drive some additional patrons to their businesses — and especially over the holidays. It’s a great partnership.”

Visit the McLaren Port Huron Foundation online for more information about the Festival of Trees, raffle tickets, and more.