I’m very involved in and proud of the Midcoast Tree Festival. It’s an idea that I was approached with in early 2019 and I jumped at the opportunity. That November, we held the first Midcoast Tree Festival at St. John’s Community Center (43 Pleasant St., Brunswick) on the weekends before and after Thanksgiving.

That inaugural year, over 50 local businesses supported the event by either supporting a tree space, creating a wreath to raffle off or being an outright sponsor. The event raised money for our three event presenters — Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels program, All Saints Parish (St. John’s) and the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber. More than the funds raised though, year one was the beginning of what felt like a new tradition.

We’re thrilled to say that the three organizations announced a week ago, that the Midcoast Tree Festival is coming back this year to St. John’s Community Center, on Nov. 19-21 and Nov. 26-28. It’s exciting to be holding this event again, and unlike last year, we’ll be keeping the format from the original year of the festival.

For those that don’t recall, our event had to be changed to an online auction in 2020 due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions, and though nearly as many businesses came out in support, the online auction was just different. We’re so grateful that it did continue, but admittedly, a highest bidder auction is certainly different than a 50 cent per ticket raffle. We have some COVID-19 safety plans, as well as a change in ticketing, that will ensure we can keep our raffle going this year.

Please note, we take this pandemic very seriously, and we don’t want to see anyone feeling they have to miss out if they feel uncomfortable being there in person. Therefore, this year we are developing a triple ticketing system, with indoor ticketing, outdoor ticketing and online ticketing.

Indoor ticketing is just as we had it in the inaugural year, buy your 50-cent raffle tickets, view the trees inside St. John’s, pick the trees you want to put tickets in for and drop the tickets in the tree buckets. Now depending on how bad the COVID cases are come mid-November, we may have to include procedures like masking, social distancing, one-way traffic, capacity limits or other restrictions, but we plan to have indoor ticketing.

Outdoor ticketing is a concept we came up with last year but never implemented due to the change to an online auction. Essentially, you will buy tickets outside the front door, and we’ll have an outdoor display of the trees. Each tree picture will have a list of what can be won in that tree space (it’s the very same sign on the trees inside) and you can put your tickets in the tree bucket of your choice. We will combine the two buckets into one each night, so that when we draw the winner it will include both tickets.

Finally online ticketing will be brand-new this year, as we will be following the lead of another tree festival that received approval for online ticketing last year. Ticket purchasers will scroll through the tree displays on our MTF website, and submit an online order for which trees they want tickets for. Your order gets sent to our on-site elves who will place your tickets in the corresponding buckets for you and you pay online. It’s by far the safest way to participate – no touch ticketing if you will.

There are several additional exciting new changes we’re working on too, including: a new dedicated website, special family entertainment, volunteer opportunities, food trucks and more. We’ll discuss those in future columns as the event gets closer and those pieces get confirmed.

However, the final message I want to get across is the importance of this year’s Midcoast Tree Festival. I noticed this a couple of weeks ago, ironically at our Chamber After Hours on Sept. 29 at Flight Deck Brewing when we announced the MTF. At that outdoor event, we saw so many smiling faces, who were just relieved. There’s so much pent-up stress we’ve all been carrying through 18 months of this pandemic. Businesses have been busier than they could handle, in most cases, and the pressure of that stretched them thin, physically and emotionally.

At our After Hours though, I noticed people, laughing and sharing stories – all of them so thankful to have some normalcy. That’s why this year’s MTF is so important. People are aching for something to do with their families. If our little festival can give some family a little comfort, a little joy, a distraction from the everyday stresses, it’s worth it.

The best thing about the Midcoast Tree Festival is how much the tree sponsors care about giving back. In a season of giving, this is a tangible, transparent act that says to the community, “we took the time to share a little light in our community.” It’s powerful to see busy business leaders taking the time to put their name on a tree space and give back.

The second-best thing about the MTF, is that the price of entry is a 50 cent raffle ticket. The bar of entry is so low, that it’s affordable for most and families get to come and enjoy the holiday spirit. They plan their day around it, and invite their friends to join them for crafts, trees and some holiday entertainment. We give families two weekends of fun, and some of those lucky families even win gifts for the season.

People need this now, they need something wholesome and good. If your company or group wants to participate on a tree, become a sponsor or help in any other way, I’d love to hear from you. Call me at the chamber office (207) 725-8797, email me at [email protected] or check out our chamber website for more event details at midcoastmaine.com.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: