Due to a myriad of issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Ponoka Festival of Trees, which had been set for Nov. 12 to 15 at the Stagecoach Saloon, has been cancelled.
2020 would have been the eighth annual Festival of Trees, and it will be the first year the event has not taken place since it began in 2013.
Even though the festival is not until November, there may still be restrictions on crowd sizes at that time, and the board members felt it would be unfair to even ask local businesses to donate at this time.
“It was just a very difficult decision,” said Dorothy Ungstad, chair of the Ponoka and District Health Foundation (PDHF).
According to Ungstad, the decision to cancel for 2020 was made for a number of reasons.
Although the festival runs over four days, the planning for it and securing of donors and sponsors is a year-long endeavour, and soliciting would have needed to have been started already.
Given that so many businesses have been forced to close or operate in significantly reduced capacities, the board felt trying to hold the festival this year would not prove viable.
Businesses that are typically large donors have faced massive layoffs, and even smaller donors are in similar situations.
“All these questions being asked raised how viable it would be.”
Securing funding, selling tickets, and the crowds that usually come out to events, all raised concerns.
Different options were considered, but ultimately it was decided to just cancel.
The board members discussed the decision over email before the board made the decision.
“That main thing was, the future’s uncertain.”
The other issue was a lack of direction for what to fundraise for this year. Although a few suggestions were made, the time when that would have been finalized in either February or March, was right when COVID-19 hit, and those discussions were delayed.
The idea was put forward to raise funds for more beds for either long-term or palliative care, but there was some uncertainty about how much community support that cause would muster, and no firm decision was made.
Ungstad was a founding member of the committee in 2011, and then backed away for awhile, returning in 2014. She has been the PDHF chair for the last few years.
Over the past year, seven board members have resigned, leaving just four: Dr. Cayla Gilbert, Lynette Hycha, Leonard Standing On The Road, and Ungstad.
According to Ungstad, people resigned because of internal differences.
Jennifer Parker, a trustee from 2016 to 2020 and co-chair of the PDHF in 2019-2020, resigned in March.
“My decision was due to a difference in vision moving forward,” said Parker.
“I saw a new direction for the PDHF and unfortunately, we couldn’t align our visions, so I made the very difficult decision to resign.”
Parker says she’s very proud of the work that was accomplished during her time with the PDHF, especially in 2019 when she was the chair of the Festival of Trees, working with coordinator Charlotte Winters.
“The community support for this event was phenomenal,” she said.
“As anyone who chairs a large event can tell you, there are thousands of hours of work for the organizing team, and we had a brilliant team of dedicated volunteers.”
The names of six new members have been put forward, and pending an approval process that includes extensive background checks, the new members will be sworn in at the AGM in June.
Ultimately, the names have to be accepted by the board of Alberta Health Services.
The festival was run by committee members for the first six years.
2019 was the first year the foundation had organized the Festival of Trees, which turned out to be a very successful event, with every event sold out and $100,000 fundraising goal was met.
The committee, Parker and Winters “did an excellent job,” said Ungstad.
Although the PDHF is hoping the Festival of Trees can return in 2021, Ungstad says that is a discussion that will take place in the fall.
Even without a 2021 festival, the foundation will continue its other activities in the community, such as children’s days, paint time with seniors and students, information presentations on legal issues and wills, and planting the Sommer’s Garden at the hospital.
Without the festival, the PDHF will have to rely on donations. Typically, it receives a couple of estate donations a year.
Ungstad says the PDHF is fortunate that the community gives so much support, in donations and volunteerism.
“When something is needed at the hospital, they support it.”
“It’s really sad, actually, but I think COVID-19 is really sad too,” said Ungstad, adding the foundation’s first concern and obligation is to the safety of the community.