32nd Festival of Trees moves to McLaren Port Huron to preserve a holiday tradition

In a typical year, preparations would be underway to put the finishing touches on the Festival of Trees at the Blue Water Convention Center.

The annual event is organized by the McLaren Port Huron Foundation and helps raise funds for hospital infrastructure and equipment upgrades, year after year. The 2019 festival, for instance, helped raise money to complete the new James C. Acheson Heart and Vascular Center.

But 2020 is not your typical year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched many aspects of our daily lives, including our holiday traditions. The McLaren Port Huron Foundation, however, will not let the Grinch that is COVID-19 steal Christmas.

The 32nd annual Festival of Trees is upon us, albeit in a slightly different but no less important and inspiring fashion.

“This is a long-standing tradition for the community. Something that we hear each year is that the festival helps kick off the holiday season. Being such a big part of the community, we couldn’t let it slip away this year,” says Jamie Guyor, development officer for the McLaren Port Huron Foundation.

“The festival has been at McMorran Place and then the Convention Center but it’s just not feasible to have more than a thousand people gathering right now.

“But we wanted to still do it.”

To pull it off, the McLaren Port Huron Foundation has transformed the South Tower lobby of its Port Huron campus into a veritable Winter Wonderland. Designers and volunteers have been hard at work designing and installing their holiday-themed Christmas trees and displays in the windows there, allowing fans of the annual event to still enjoy this Blue Water tradition.

Rather than invite guests into the Convention Center itself, the Festival of Trees will be displayed in the windows of the South Tower. Guests are invited to walk, stroll, or drive by to view the creative Christmas Trees at their own leisure and from the safety of their own socially-distanced personal bubbles.

The trees will be displayed from Thanksgiving through the New Year.

“The festival to me is a time-honored tradition. At the heart of any tradition is a meaningful experience and that is what this festival does for people. It’s community and a coming-together for an incredible cause,” says Andrea Emigh, a returning tree designer for the festival.

“The joy, hope, and anticipation the festival gives us brings a promise to a marvelous holiday season and fresh start in the new year. It’s rooted in who we are. It’s all of us.”

It’s all for a good cause

Proceeds from this year’s Festival of Trees will help purchase endobronchial ultrasound bronchoscopy, or EBUS, equipment. The EBUS equipment allows for the early detection and treatment for lung cancer.

It’s important that the hospital successfully purchases the equipment, says Guyor. Doing so gives Blue Water residents the ability to stay close to home when seeking life-saving treatment. “No one wants to travel when they don’t feel good,” she says.

The staff at McLaren Port Huron agrees.

“Lung cancer is by far the leading cause of cancer deaths among both men and women, making up almost 25 percent of all cancer deaths. We believe adding this technology at McLaren Port Huron will enhance our overall patient care,” the McLaren Port Huron Pulmonary Critical Care Team — Dr. Vasken Artinian; Dr. Ali Haidar; Dr. Michael Basha; Jody Britz, DNP; and Khalida Graham, NP — released in a shared statement.

“It will empower our diagnostic process and improve care and outcomes for lung cancer patients in our community.

“We are very passionate about this technology and the impact it can have on our patients and appreciate your consideration in supporting it.”

DTE Energy is a returning sponsor for Festival of TreesThe McLaren Port Huron Foundation is raising funds for the EBUS equipment in a variety of different ways, offering sponsorship opportunities and accepting individual and organizational donations.

One annual tradition is the raffle; entrants can win one of the 17 Christmas Trees from this year’s festival, to be delivered to their home following the New Year. There is also the kayak prize package, which includes two kayaks, paddles, life jackets, a wireless speaker, and a Yeti cooler.

While some of the traditional festival events and attractions have been canceled due to COVID-19 safety protocols, Guyor says that some, like story time for children, could instead be held virtually and online.

“We’re all really excited and the staff is excited. It’s such a big part of the Foundation and the hospital’s tradition. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas without the festival,” says Guyor.

“We’ve been figuring out how to keep everyone safe yet still bring that Christmas joy. And we’ve received a lot of enthusiasm from the community.

“We’ve been thinking outside of the box and brainstorming. Where is a safe place that the community can still view the trees? It became obvious that we have the best window display right here on campus.”

Excitement, kindness, and generosity

The Foundation has been hosting tree designers in shifts to ensure their safety as they prepare the displays for their Thanksgiving unveiling. It’s a dedicated group of volunteers with many that return year after year. Indeed, one of the designers has participated in the event in each of its 32 years.

COVID-19 may have cut the amount of trees from a typical year by more than half, but the group is no less committed to spreading that Yuletide joy. By moving the festival to the windows of its South Campus, McLaren Port Huron Foundation has found a way to continue providing that service to the community.

And all for a great cause, too.

“I participate in the Festival as a designer because I absolutely love Christmas,” says Sue Andrews, one of the tree designers for this year’s festival. “And this is also a wonderful opportunity to be creative while supporting the very important projects at the hospital.”

Fellow tree designer Andrea Emigh echoes Andrews’s love for all things Christmas — and especially when it comes to helping others.

“The excitement, kindness, and generosity of others makes my soul happy. I love being a part of something that can do that for people,” she says.

“I do it to honor my beautiful sister’s memory and to continue being able to display our love for this nostalgic holiday.”

Visit Port Huron McLaren Foundation online for more information about the 32nd annual Festival of Trees and this year’s donation and raffle opportunities.