Hiawatha Homes Festival of Trees goes virtual for 2020

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Each year, volunteers decorate 6- and 8-foot artificial trees that underwriting businesses acquire by contributing to Hiawatha Homes. The pandemic precluded holding the event in person this year and cut into the fundraiser as businesses have also suffered.

“We knew each business would need to take a look at their finances,” said Cindy Ostrowski, Hiawatha Homes chief executive officer. “And we wanted people to think about what was best for their business.”

This year, 81 supporting businesses stepped up to buy trees and support the cause.

That’s fewer than the festival started with when the event debuted with 84 trees in 1995, but was still a welcome piece of good news, said Ostrowski and festival volunteers and organizers.

“The fact that we had 81 underwriters is fantastic,” said Ardie O’Hanlon, who coordinates the volunteer decorating effort.

Groups buying the trees selected their favorites from pictures online Sunday afternoon. Volunteers bagged up the trees for delivery from the Empire Event Center at the Rochester Best Western.

The Rochester Downtown Alliance helped coordinate delivery of some trees to empty downtown storefronts, said Crystal Landherr, director of development and communications for Hiawatha Homes Foundation. Some areas where trees would normally be visible to the public are closed due to statewide restrictions to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The downtown venues help offset those losses, she said.

Landherr took the tree requests and passed them to Ostrowski, who then passed the information to volunteers, who labeled the trees and packed them for delivery Sunday.

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Ostrowski’s husband, a longtime volunteer for the festival, helped coordinate that effort. Wrapping up a tree, he and Bethany Dodd worked to unravel a glitter-covered tree sash.

“I’m going to be one shiny dude,” he said as glitter spread everywhere.

Although John Ostrowski has been volunteering at the event since 2006, having family and household members help with the effort minimized risk and kept Sunday’s efforts in compliance with statewide lockdown requirements.

Trees will be set up and in place by Wednesday. A map of tree locations will be available on the Hiawatha Homes website, hiawathahomes.org.

Money raised through Festival of Trees helps support Hiawatha Homes’ work with children and adults with developmental disabilities, physical health needs, brain injuries, autism spectrum disorder, and emotional and behavioral needs.

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