Festival of Trees lights up Bel Air Armory

The Bel Air Armory was once again transformed into a winter wonderland this weekend, as the seventh annual Festival of Trees drew its biggest crowd yet and raised money for Upper Chesapeake Health's Cancer LifeNet programs, organizers said.

About 2,500 people attended the festival throughout the weekend, which Chesapeake Cancer Alliance President Kathy Welch called "a record crowd."

"It was a great year. We had a wonderful response, had a lot more people at our 'Wine Down,'" Welch said Sunday night. She was referring to the Wine Down Social, which kicked off the weekend-long festivities on Friday night.

The Alliance raised about $30,000, similar to last year's event, from the silent auction of the trees, as well as sales of the wreaths and gingerbread houses.

Businesses and community groups contributed 45 trees, 26 wreaths and 16 gingerbread houses, including some decorated with Ravens and Orioles gear, Welch said.

"People really seemed to enjoy themselves. They stuck around it longer than last year," she said. "We feel it was a great success. We sold all the trees and wreaths."

For the first time, the gingerbread houses sold out, too, she said.

"Everybody seemed so excited about it. We had a lot of new people attend," Welch said.

Some new entertainment kept attendees happy as well, such as the Hoppin' Hawks Jump Ropers.

Welch said she hopes it continues to grow next year.

"We just are encouraging more organizations and businesses to decorate and donate trees, because we had some beautiful ones this year and we had some new groups donate trees," she said. "It's a whole community effort."

The second annual Breakfast with Santa event at Applebee's that preceded the Festival of Trees on Saturday morning was also a big hit, organizer Pam Carpenter said.

The event drew about 148 people, which Carpenter said was fewer than last year, when 225 ate breakfast with Santa.

"We were a little down on the attendance and therefore a little down on the income, but I just attribute it to the economy. It was [also] a very cold day, as opposed to our first one," Carpenter said.

The breakfast earned a little more than $700 for the Alliance and left everyone happy, she said.

"We were very, very pleased with it – lots of friends and family of CCA members and then we had a lot of people just come off the street," she said. "Santa Claus was there, as well as Mrs. Claus."

Carpenter had about 20 volunteers, including Lynchburg University student Brittinay Nicolette, who is Miss Maryland Collegiate.

"She was dressed as an elf and she was so cute," Carpenter said.

A group from Bel Air High School's HOPE club helped run the event as well.

"They are the best students. They are the hardest workers," Carpenter said. "Everybody was walking out the door as we were leaving, saying, 'Thank you so much; we had a great time.'"

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