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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Q&A: What to expect at this year's Festival of Trees winter wonderland fundraiser

A view of some of the trees at Festival of Trees
WGLT file
The Baby Fold
The winter wonderland at the Interstate Center is the 120-year-old Baby Fold's largest fundraiser of the year, helping the nonprofit serve 1,200 children every year.

The unofficial start to the holiday season returns to Bloomington this week: The Baby Fold's Festival of Trees. It opens Thursday and runs through Saturday.

The winter wonderland at the Interstate Center is the 120-year-old Baby Fold's largest fundraiser of the year, helping the nonprofit serve 1,200 children every year. Its services include foster care and adoption-support programs, special education school, autism services, and early childhood intervention.

In this interview with WGLT, The Baby Fold's vice president of development and public relations Aimee Beam says the inflationary economy has presented challenges, especially for her clients.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

WGLT: How has the economy and inflation impacted The Baby Fold?

The Baby Fold's vice president of development and public relations Aimee Beam.
The Baby Fold's vice president of development and public relations Aimee Beam.

Beam: It's been very difficult for us, but we are extraordinarily creative. And we have a very fiscally sound policy. And we are good stewards of our resources. So we can really stretch a dollar. So I've found very creative ways — over around and through that — with regard to our expenses. And we also have wonderful community partners who have been donating where they can, even supplies and paper and things like that.

Where I'm feeling the most impact is on our clients. We have people who we've set on the right track and are doing absolutely everything right. They have jobs, and they're working poor, and these kinds of price increases really tipped them over the edge. So I'm seeing a real spike in homelessness. And so we're really having to address more basic needs than we typically would.

And obviously, we can't do any healing therapies or move forward in life until we've stabilized those situations. So this year, I did create a family stabilization fund just for that reason. And that's part of what this money (from Festival of Trees) will go to, in addition to supporting all of our typical programming. But we have to be mindful of the situation that the economy has put our clients in.

With the state of the economy and inflation being what it is, how do you think that's impacting charitable giving in this community?

Our community is a very special place. And I think, unlike other places, when people see and understand this need, they do the opposite. They step up because they understand the problem. And maybe it makes it even a little clearer to see. Because if they feel like they're being squeezed at the pump, or their grocery bills are high, then it's easy for them to imagine how devastating that might be to someone in the lower income echelon. So I have found that that our donors — especially once I point that out to them — they've been very generous.

We have seen some people who are middle, lower income themselves who might typically donate holding back a little bit, but that's OK. And some businesses are suffering more than others. And what we try to do is, wish them well and support them as they have supported us in the past, and we know that when these things shake out that we'll all still be friends and whoever has something to give at this time, I think is stepping up to give it. I've been doing well and I'm feeling blessed.

Let’s talk about the fun parts of Festival of Trees. What is your favorite part of this thing?

There are very few places in the state where you can walk in and see a Christmas display like that. Christmas trees lit up and every size. We call it the Enchanted Forest. Where else can you go where you can walk through a display like that?

And I like the Gingerbread Village too. It's more like a thriving metropolis these days, though, because we have so many donors who give gingerbread houses. They're doing things like recreating the Notre Dame Cathedral. I mean, it's gotten serious! You go peek in the little houses and the kids just love it. I love to see the smiles on their faces when they walk through. It is brings me a lot of joy. And it smells so good too.

Tell me about the team that makes this happen. How big of a lift is this?

It's a very heavy lift. I would say it's a fascinating community collaboration. We have about 475 volunteers that will help us out. Some work with us year-round. And some are just event volunteers. But we need people from setup to teardown.

We also need designers. We’ll have about 518 items from 287 different people. And we have nearly 100 sponsors. And we've got people who don't just give monetarily but give of their skills. We've got carpenters and electricians, and it's just very exciting when you think about it, how many people it takes to put this on. And they're doing it for the community's children so that the future of our community together can be enhanced, and we're just providing so many good services. And these people who help us understand that. Want to help us to get from point A to point B every year. And I think it brings them a lot of joy to know that they're doing good, even if it's hard work.

Is there anything new this year with Festival of Trees?

We're opening on a Thursday afternoon instead of Friday this year. So we'll be open Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. And we wanted to extend hours a little bit because it's our 120th anniversary.

And then on both Friday and Saturday nights, we're having Avanti’s Family Nights. We're doing it twice. Normally, we just do it on Friday. But this year, we're having live music both nights, families can come in and enjoy what's going on the stage and hear some awesome live Christmas music while they sit among the trees and enjoy a meal. So that's something we haven't done, but it's been a very popular thing and families really enjoy it.

Also, Santa is going to be there all weekend. So make sure to bring the kids by. CEFCU is sponsoring our children's area this year. And the kids are going to get to see some fun things and have some crafts while they're there. So bring everybody by. Always lots to eat and hot chocolate and coffee and cookies are abundant at the Festival of Trees. So come and enjoy the sights and the sounds. It’s a great way to kick off the holidays.

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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