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Annual Festival of Trees showcases 'amazing' creativity, for charity

Linda Clark and her mother, Arlene Heintzelman, made the trip from her home in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to the TownMall of Westminster to shop at Boscov's and got sidetracked examining The Shepherd's Staff's Festival of Trees.

"It just makes you smile," Clark said. "The creativity is amazing. I love the ones in memory of people."

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The ninth annual Festival of Trees silent auction, which comes to a close Saturday, Dec. 12 at 4 p.m., supports The Shepherd's Staff, a local nonprofit that helps people in need within the Carroll County community.

For every dollar donated, 88 percent goes back to The Shepherd's Staff clients, according to the Shepherd's Staff executive director Brenda Meadows.

"This is the organization's largest fundraiser," Meadows said. "Last year we raised over $42,000 due to the generosity of the sponsors and the many visitors who bid on the beautifully decorated, themed trees. We'd like to thank the community for their support of the event through in-kind donations, sponsorships and volunteer time."

Meadows said there are 70 uniquely designed trees up for bid, all of which include gifts under the tree.

"Many of the trees have handmade items on them, and you can tell a lot of love goes into it," Meadows said. "The trees are all very different. There's something there for everybody's taste."

John Smith, of Westminster, and his wife Norma came to the mall specifically to look at trees.

"I think it's great. The variety makes it so cheerful," John Smith said.

Lead decorator and festival co-chair Brenda Marks said the event brings a lot of joy to so many people, including herself.

"It's an interesting process. We receive a lot of decorations from the community and turn them into money for The Shepherd's Staff," Marks said. "We also buy tons of decorations after the season is over to get really good deals. In late summer, we start assessing the collection."

Marks said community contributions, like the Harley Davidson ornaments donated by Toop's Troops, inspired a black and orange tree titled Ridin' Like There's No Tomorrow. That organization also donated gift certificates to be placed under the tree. As of Thursday afternoon, the highest bid was $500.

Peggy O'Behan, of Hanover, Pennsylvania, said she read about the festival and decided to take a look.

"They're beautiful. It's apparent that a lot of time went into it," O'Behan said.

Marks said many themes have reoccurred throughout the years. Visitors can count on a bear tree, a cat tree, a dog tree and sports-themed trees every year. She said the Frosty tree, a plush version of Frosty the Snowman, is so popular each year that volunteers decided to make 20 mini-Frosty trees to sell for $30.

"There's always a little something that inspires us, and we just let the themes develop," Marks said. "A lot of our decorators have hidden talents, and the festival brings that out. It's hard work and takes a lot of patience."

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Festival co-chair Sharon Birnie said all the hard work is worthwhile because she can see the results of fundraiser at work in the community.

"I feel like an elf in a workshop," Birnie said. "The festival brings joy to people from all different walks of life. You don't have to spend any money to get in the holiday spirit."

410-857-7873

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If you go:

What: 2015 Festival of Trees

Where: Belk Court in the TownMall of Westminster.

When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Bids close at 4 p.m.

Cost: Free

For more information, call The Shepherd's Staff at 410-857-5944, visit www.shepstaff.org or email shepstaff@comcast.net.

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