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Festival of Trees raises big funds for St. Joseph’s Hospital Foundation

For the first time since the pandemic hit, St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation's Festival of Trees returned to its traditional in-person format, and thousands of people attended various events throughout the weekend, supporting the hospital and local health care in all ways possible.

ESTEVAN — The St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation wrapped up its 10th annual Festival of Trees on Sunday, and once again the biggest fundraiser of the year for the foundation was a big success.

For the first time since the pandemic hit, the event returned to its traditional in-person format, and thousands of people attended various events throughout the weekend, supporting the hospital and local health care in all ways possible.

Lori Gervais, the executive director of the St. Joseph's Hospital Foundation, said the event went really well and the support from the community was once again tremendous. She didn't have the total for the amount of money raised as of Monday morning, but she said they might be looking at record-breaking numbers this year.

"I feel like things went really well. I feel like the auction went unbelievably well. And I think it's going to be maybe even record-breaking. But I don't actually know that yet," Gervais said, adding that the interest for everything offered throughout the weekend was really high.

On Saturday, the foundation invited the community to join them for the Festival of Trees Gala at Affinity Place. The night saw a festive supper, live and silent auctions, raffles and entertainment by award-winning Saskatchewan country music artist Codie Prevost.

Proceeds from the event will be used for the local hospital's needs.

"We're having some of the 250 finest health care providers ... And as great as this team is, their work is not possible without the generosity of this community we live in," said St. Joseph's Hospital executive director Greg Hoffort during the gala. "We have about $11 million worth of equipment at St. Joseph's Hospital and while the government funds a great deal of the operating costs of St. Joseph's Hospital, they do not fund the equipment. That signifies the importance of Lori [Gervais] and her team and the good work they do raising the money.

"We are very blessed to live in southeast Saskatchewan, where the generosity of this community is simply unmatched anywhere. We want you to please know that this generosity is not lost on us, and it's never taken for granted. And we thank you so much for all you do to make health care possible for your health care team in your hospital."

Hoffort added that community contributions are put to work in many different ways. Raised money helps cover the expenses of departmental upgrades, a STARS Air Ambulance helipad, endoscopy units, anesthesia machines, CT scans, blood pressure machines and many other pieces required to provide quality health care.

Six travel packages, six decorated Christmas trees and an original painting by Michael Lonechild were sold through the live auction, conducted by Mack Auction Company, generated $63,500 for the hospital that night. Proceeds from each tree went to a particular hospital unit, while the rest of the money raised through silent auction, raffles, table sales and Hometown Family Fun Day donations are to be used for hospital maintenance and the purchase of new equipment.

The number of trees offered for the auction was lower than before. Gervais said they decided to decrease the offering this year, and it worked out well.

"We decided to do that just because it was our first year back. The trees are getting more expensive to make and the last couple of years with the economy … they hadn't done as well as they had in the past," Gervais noted. "So we wanted [to have fewer trees] for two reasons: to make it maybe slightly more exclusive … but also to give it a feel before we go back 100 per cent just in case they didn't go as well, but they went fantastically."

The highest bid for a tree was $5,800 and combined tree sales generated $23,500.

Some of the items offered at the silent auction went for more money than they were worth, and Gervais pointed out, "That's a perfect example of our community supporting us."

Sunday was a Hometown Family Fun Day with Christmas activities by donations happening across the community. The day saw Santa's workshop, gift sleigh and a photo booth at Affinity Place, Christmas movies at the Orpheum Theatre, a Christmas swim at the pool, bouncy castles at the Church of God and milk and cookies at McDonald's.

"Sunday was great … There was a lot of participation, the community seemed to really get involved, all the stations and stops seemed to have people hanging out and around," Gervais said. "And I think doing it by donation really opens the door to everyone, because we want everyone included, so that gives everybody the opportunity to go check it out.

For Gervais, it was her first Festival of Trees in the role of the foundation executive director. She tried doing a few things differently this year. For example, they moved the silent auction up from the main level at Affinity Place, and also used other rooms and places for the Sunday activities to allow the staff to get the ice ready for upcoming hockey games. They will later evaluate their biggest fundraiser of the year, and decide what to keep and what to change to make the event even better.

Hoffort praised the foundation for the team's efforts in putting the Festival of Trees together.

"I want to recognize, and please join me in thanking Lori Gervais for her hard work as the executive director of the foundation. This was her first year in the role and she is really doing a great, tremendous job in pulling this event off after a two-year hiatus," Hoffort said.

And Gervais thanked the community for their unbelievable support.

"It's always overwhelming to see how people step up for the hospital," Gervais said.