WESTBROOK – A charitable event that has become a Westbrook institution through the past decade is gearing up for another year.

The Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for local charity, has been a holiday season tradition in Westbrook since 2001, when founder Pat Wilson said she wanted to create something in the memory of her mother, Beatrice M. Elwell.

“It’s been really nice for the community,” she said.

Nonprofit organizations the festival supports include the Mission Possible Teen Center, the Westbrook Food Pantry, the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland and the Good Samaritan Oil Fund. Cheryl Leighton, one of the festival’s coordinators, said it began modestly, with Wilson herself raising a mere $1,400 in 2001. It has grown steadily since then, raising $8,450 in 2008, $9,350 in 2009, and $9,480 in 2010, Leighton said.

“Look how far it’s gone,” Leighton said.

Since it began, Wilson said, the festival has raised $76,250, all donated to local organizations.

“This isn’t a profit-making thing,” She said. “It’s all for Westbrook charity.”

The festival’s name comes from decorated Christmas trees on display, which donors may sponsor ahead of time for $100 each. This year, there are 44 sponsored trees so far, Wilson said, paid for by a number of corporate and individual sponsors, including Sebago Technics, the Westbrook Community Center and the Rotary Club of Westbrook/Gorham.

Another popular event associated with the festival, the Tips for Charity Luncheon, will also be returning on Friday, Dec. 9, from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. At the event, local public figures, including Mayor Colleen Hilton, School Superintendent Marc Gousse, and Public Safety Director Michael Pardue, will be on hand to act as servers.

“It’s been one of our biggest money raisers,” Wilson said.

Other events at this year’s festival include Breakfast With Santa on the morning of Dec. 3; an ecumenical service, “An Advent Celebration: Lessons and Carols of Hope and Promise,” on Dec. 4; and a demonstration by the Drouin Dance Center on Dec. 7.

The events, in addition to supporting local charities, Wilson said, also serve as an opportunity for the community to get together.

“You see people you haven’t seen in a long time,” Wilson said.

Leighton said she has only been with the festival for the past two years, but said the growth in donations received every year is a sign that even the slumping economy can’t put a damper on the holiday spirit of giving.

“The Westbrook community, on the whole, to us has been very giving,” she said.


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