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Festival of Trees to feature ice skating

By Staff | Nov 26, 2019

The popular Goodwill Industries of Southwest Florida Festival of Trees will return next week for its 13th year with a new addition — a synthetic ice rink surrounded by the popular tree displays.

The four days of festivities will take place from Thursday, Dec. 5, through Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center in Fort Myers.

“We are excited to offer something new and different this year. It is going to be interesting to see Southwest Floridians on skates,” Festival of Trees Chairperson Susan Hegarty said. “The company that we are renting it from helps set it up and monitors it. We will have volunteers there to help people with their shoes and getting their skates on.”

It is $8 to ice skate for those 12 years old and older and $5 for those 3 to 11 years old accompanied by an adult. She said individuals will have 30 minutes to skate around the oval.

“It will be indoors among the trees. Instead of the usual 25 trees, we will have about 12 to 15 trees this year and they will be just as spectacular,” Hegarty said.

Ice skating will start at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 6, with the last skate at 10:30 p.m. The skating will resume at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, with the last skate at 10:30 p.m. On Sunday, Dec. 8, the skating will take place from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with the last skate.

“We invite everyone to come down and try out the ice skating. It will be something fun, different and unique. It will be something new to try this year,” she said.

The annual Festival of Trees began when the building was taken over as an art center with dirt floors.

“It has grown up. It’s now just a wonderful holiday tradition for hundreds of families. We get people that come back year after year,” Hegarty said.

The annual event will kick off next Thursday with a Preview Party, which includes honoring people who have made strides in pushing through their barriers to gain independence. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased at www.goodwilltrees.com.

“You get to preview the trees and buy raffle tickets for the trees. We are going to be honoring six companies, or individuals for the awards this year,” she said.

On Friday, the Holiday Stroll will take place from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., which includes a visit from Santa Claus, wreath lighting and Nowhere Band, a Beatles Tribute Band.

Individuals can stroll through the trees, and take a chance at winning one of them.

“We have a lot of returning trees, some that have been with us all 13 years, such as Costco. Norris Furniture has been with us for 12 years,” Hegarty said.

Some of the new trees this year include Sun Harvest Citrus. Some Returning trees include Key West Express, LCEC and Calusa Harbor. She said Gateway Charter School is also returning this year.

“The students do it as part of their education program. They create the theme and they design all the decorations that go on the tree,” she said.

Members of the community has the opportunity to vote on their favorite tree — Best Overall, Most Traditional, Most Creative and the Mayor’s Choice.

“The Lee County Elections Office sets up actual voting booths for us and they have a ballot with all of the trees on them,” she said. “Chico’s has been Best Overall for the past couple of years. They have some wonderful designers who pretty much set the tone for the rest of them.”

The community has the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets, $10 a ticket, for their favorite tree, with the opportunity, if they win, to have it delivered to their home to enjoy for the holidays.

In addition to the trees, there will be eight to 10 baskets that attendees can purchase raffle tickets for featuring such items as spa products, children’s baskets, household kitchen products and travel baskets.

Hegarty said they will also be bringing back the Very Beary Tree, which also has become a tradition. This tree is not part of the raffle, but rather a nine-foot tree that is decorated with teddy bears for the Golisano Children’s Hospital.

“We are asking area businesses if we can put a box in their store,” she said, adding they hope to collect up to 300 teddy bears to be placed on the tree. “We deliver that tree to the Golisano Children’s Hospital. The staff distributes the bears to the children that have to be hospitalized during the holidays. We are definitely looking for donations of new teddy bears.”

The annual event will also include Santa’s Block Party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7. Tickets are $6 per child.

Children can create a Home Depot craft, frost Publix cookies, have their face painted by Suncoast Credit Union, as well as jump in a bounce house, do arts and crafts, watch a movie and write letters to Santa and the service men and women, Hegarty said.

There also will be a vendor showcase down First Street and Hendry Street, as well as food trucks, a visit from Santa Claus and stage entertainment.

On Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. the tree raffle drawing will be shown live on Facebook.

“Monday, we deliver them to all the people’s homes and deliver the bear tree to the hospital,” Hegarty said.

All the proceeds from the Festival of Trees will benefit the Southwest Florida Goodwill Foundation.

“All the money stays local,” she said. “We have all kinds of programs and services.”

Some of the programs the money will support includes Pathways to Opportunities, resource centers and education courses.

“The stores help employ people. Twenty-five percent identify themselves as having a disability. We are putting people to work, which goes hand in hand with our mission,” Hegarty said.

The Sidney & Berne Davis Arts Center is at 2301 1st St.

To purchase tickets, visit www.goodwilltrees.com. Information will continue to be updated on the website.