A venerable holiday charity tradition is adapting to the current uncertain times.
The Baby Fold’s Festival of Trees runs Nov. 16-21. By switching to a hybrid approach, the organization hopes the agency's major fundraiser will still meet its goal.
Jessica Shaw is the coordinator of development operations at the Baby Fold and supervises the yearly Festival of Trees. She said this year, the festival is partly online and partly at Eastland Mall in Bloomington. Ordinarily, the Festival of Trees fills a large space of the Interstate Center in Bloomington.
This year, the auction items can be viewed in person at the former MC Sports location in the Kohl’s wing of the mall.
“It’s significantly smaller than the Interstate Center,” Shaw said. “But what we’re going to do this year is just highlight all of our auction items. We ‘re going to have them on display and grouped by item type. So, it’s more of a retail experience.”
“We’re hoping that when people come out there, they’re coming out with the intent of wanting to buy something that they have already seen online. Say you’ve got your eye on a 7-foot tree and you really want to see it in person. That’s when we would say to come on out to Eastland Mall and size it up, see if that’s really what you’re looking for. So, it’s more of a place to view things in person after you’ve viewed them on the website.”
Shaw revealed the organization is utilizing a new app for the fundraiser. All bidding will be mobile, designed to offer customers a safe alternative to shopping for items during the pandemic.
“Part of the creative process with trying to figure out how to offer a really unique experience this year is new mobile bidding software," Shaw said. "We found One Cause, which is formerly BidPal. I believe several organizations in our community use that for their fundraising efforts when they do have events.
“We knew it was a really good program, and we’re super impressed with it because you can have photos of the items, you can put descriptions in, you can recognize your designers. It’s very user-friendly, very easy to register. And it’s just neat to be able to browse all these items.”
The Festival of Trees features a wide array of designer trees, including one designed by Shaw herself that would have Homer Simpson salivating to own it--a doughnut tree.
“I used to work at Denny’s Doughnuts during my college days,” Shaw admitted with a laugh. “Doughnuts are a huge part of my life. So, I needed to design a Christmas tree based on my love for doughnuts.”
The festival also includes chances to bid on more traditional trees, wreaths and other holiday décor, gift baskets, gingerbread houses--and a chance to get behind the wheel of a Tesla for a week.
“They reached out to us and wanted to partner with us, so we worked out a deal with them," Shaw said of the VIP experience. "That’s one of the options this year, so we’re excited to see that.”
The Festival of Trees is a major fundraiser for the Normal-based Baby Fold, typically bringing in around $200,000 each year. Shaw acknowledged the pandemic might impact that goal, but she still expressed optimism.
“I think we may hit it. We have over 500 auction items. We’ve had great support from our sponsors. We’re confident we’ll hit that goal,” she said. “And if not, and we get maybe a little under, we’re just still glad that we could offer something to the community this year.”
The money raised from the Festival of Trees goes to various programs at the Baby Fold, including foster care, special education, community schools, preventative services and more.
“It gets spread evenly through all of our services to better the lives of children and families,” Shaw said.
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