As with a lot of events and activities this year the COVID-19 pandemic is casting a shadow over Festival of Trees which will be held next week, Nov. 20, 21 and 22.
Although it may seem easier not to hold it at all, proceeds from the festival provide about one third of the funding for the Malheur County Meals on Wheels which provides meals to senior citizens and people with disabilities who are unable to get out of their homes to shop and get food for themselves, or cook it.
Meals are delivered by volunteers in each community, usually Monday through Friday, and this year is expected to see twice the number of people being served, more than 100, according to Festival Chairwoman Debbie Blackaby, About 30 people are on a waiting list to get meals, as there has not been enough money to pay for them.
“If we don’t have it [Festival of Trees] the program will suffer,” she said. The meals are provided at no cost to those who are eligible.
The festival was hosted for many years at the Clarion Inn, but because of a change in ownership at the hotel, the festival will be held at the Four Rivers Cultural Center, where it all began.
The event invites area residents to enjoy specially decorated Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday items, all of which will be available for purchase.
As in the past, the festival begins on the 20th with free hours from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., with regular viewing hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday.
Santa Claus will be available to greet the visitors, but children will not be able to sit on his lap because of the pandemic, Blackaby said.
It was hoped that Malheur County would be moved from Phase of Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plan to Phase 2 to allow more people in at a time to see the trees. However, that will not be the case, as Malheur County is one of nine counties put under tighter social gathering restrictions for two weeks. Under those guidelines, only 50 people will be allowed to view the trees at any one time, Blackaby said and people will be counted and recorded as they go in and out.