Visitors enjoy festive atmosphere while supporting cancer patients at Festival of Trees in Bel Air

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It was chilly and rainy outside Saturday afternoon, but the atmosphere inside the Bel Air Armory was warm and festive as people checked out holiday decorations, made their own or took in the entertainment from local performers at the 13th annual Festival of Trees.

The festival, put on by the nonprofit Chesapeake Cancer Alliance, is a fundraiser for Cancer LifeNet, a program to provide support services to Cecil and Harford County residents being treated at the Kaufman Cancer Center at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air.

The free support services are also available for patients’ families, according to CCA President Gail Cook.

The festival started Friday evening and continued throughout Saturday.

“We have had a wonderful event this year, with so many community people donating their time and talents to make this an exciting and successful event for Cancer LifeNet,” Cook said Saturday.

Cook said decorations such as Christmas trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses, donated for silent auction, “are beautiful and have been enjoyed by all of our guests.” The donors included local individuals, community organizations, businesses and high school classes, according to the event program.

Visitors could also check out the wares of 14 vendors, who were at tables set up around the perimeter of the Armory gymnasium. Trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses were on display in the middle of the room and in front of the stage.

A number of area performers provided entertainment, including Dance With Me School of Dance, Kevin and Kristen Foss, who portrayed Santa and Mrs. Claus, the Hoppin’ Hawks jump rope club, Bob Malloy, John Sobus, the Upper Chesapeake Chorus Singers and Toby Ziegler, according to the program.

“We have been entertained by wonderfully talented people in our community,” Cook said.

The Chesapeake Cancer Alliance is a partner with the Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation.

“We would like to thank everyone involved with this important fundraiser for Cancer LifeNet,” Cook said. “We know that cancer patients in our community and their families gratefully appreciate the support services provided at Cancer LifeNet at the Patricia D. and M. Scot Kaufman Cancer Center.”

Hazel and Larry Hopkins, of Abingdon, looked over Christmas trees Saturday. Hazel said she had bid on several gingerbread houses in the hope of buying one to be a centerpiece for her dining room. She noted most trees had been sold already.

“That’s very exciting for Chesapeake Cancer Alliance, that most of them have been sold already,” she said. “Hopefully, it’s been a successful weekend because it’s a lot of work done very well.”

Larry Hopkins said he volunteers at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air — he said he wants to give back to the health system after undergoing successful treatment for a Stage I tumor on his optic nerve eight years ago at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

He said he usually volunteers in the phlebotomy lab at the Bel Air hospital.

“I figured it was a good way to help them; they helped me,” Hopkins said.

Hazel Hopkins also praised staff at the Baltimore hospital for their support while she was in the hospital waiting area — which had locations with birds and trees — during her husband’s more than eight-hour surgery for the tumor.

She said a staffer visited her every hour or two to give updates.

“That was very reassuring,” she said.

Jill Kruger, of Bel Air, and her 13-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, looked over gingerbread houses in front of the stage. Kruger, a culinary arts teacher at Patterson Mill High School, said her students normally make gingerbread houses for the festival, but “time constraints this year didn’t allow it.”

She and her daughter, a seventh-grader at Patterson Mill Middle School, were spectators this year.

“[We’re] completely spectators, getting in the Christmas spirit,” Kruger said.

“I love seeing how many trees have already sold because it does benefit such a greet organization,” she added.

Jocelyn said she is a regular festival attendee.

“I love getting into the Christmas spirit, and there’s not a festival around that’s like this,” she said, noting she enjoys the creative aspects of it.

Each decoration was created with a different theme, and they could complete for prizes.

Lauren Arikan, of Jarrettsville, who was elected earlier this month as a state delegate from western Harford and eastern Baltimore counties District 7, worked with other members of the Harford County Republican Women's Club, to create a tree with a “Milking Maryland” theme in honor of the state’s dairy industry. It won a prize for “most original theme,” Arikan said.

The club also created a tree to donate for the 2017 festival.

“We had so much fun doing it so we decided to participate again this year,” Arikan said.

She said she has not had any personal experience with cancer, but “certainly it’s a worthy cause,” she said of Cancer LifeNet.

“I know it has a big impact on a lot of families out here,” Arikan said.

Toby Ziegler, a 17-year-old senior at North Harford High School, played Christmas songs on the violin while on the armory stage.

The Street resident plays violin, viola, saxophone, mandolin, steel drums and guitar, and he plays in his school’s orchestra, band jazz band, guitar ensemble and the NHHS school musical. Plus, he participates in the Harford Youth Orchestra and Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra.

“It’s amazing to see so many people out here to help people they don’t even know,” Ziegler said during a break while playing at the festival.

Children and their parents could, in one corner of the gym, make their own gingerbread houses.

Kim Kries, of Abingdon, and her 12-year-old daughter, Hannah, worked on a house together.

“It’s fun for her,” Kries said of her daughter. “It’s a good thing to do together.”

Festival co-chair Sandy Guzewich praised, from the stage, festival-goers for “assisting our community cancer patients with your generous donations.”

The past president of the Chesapeake Cancer Alliance chaired this year’s festival with her husband, Dave. She later praised the “cadre of volunteers” who supported the festival, including students, teachers and staff at Bel Air and Patterson Mill High School — she said teachers and staff at both schools helped sponsor the festival with a “jeans day,” during which they wore jeans for donations to the event.

Guzewich said “it takes a village” to put on the festival.

“The village of Bel Air — it takes all of us,” she said.

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