The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum was aglow with brightly lit and charmingly ornamented Christmas trees during Community Connections’ 20th annual Festival of Trees fundraiser.
Nearly 60 people had already passed through the museum by midday Saturday to admire 34 trees put together by a number of businesses and organizations for Community Connections’ biggest fundraiser of the year.
Sarah Khan, Community Connections’ Board of Directors chairwoman, said this year the fundraiser has the most sponsorships, trees and wreaths across the five-county region it serves.
“It’s pretty remarkable the amount of care that people put into it,” she said.
In addition to the Festival of Trees, the nonprofit group is also celebrating its fourth annual Festival of Wreaths.
Thirteen wreaths were at the D&SNG Museum, and another 61 wreaths were in Cortez and Montezuma County where the Festival of Wreaths is being spotlighted through Dec. 10.
A live auction is also currently being hosted online, with more than 60 auction items up for grabs. Stories about Community Connections clients, families, staff members and sponsors are being hosted online throughout the event as bidding wars for wreaths, tree decorations and presents take shape.
Resident Debby Pfeifer said she bids in the Festival of Trees & Wreaths auction every year, although she hasn’t successfully obtained a tree yet because the auction gets competitive on its last push on Sunday.
Her favorite part of the festival is seeing how many businesses participate in decorating trees and packaging gifts for the event, all in support of Community Connections’ cause. She also loves that it’s held in the D&SNG Museum among old railroad artifacts and model train displays.
Elizabeth Bussian, who joined Pfeifer at the museum on Saturday, said Community Connections is a great resource, and the festival is a joyful way to celebrate the holidays.
Community Connections provides services to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as their families. Support for the program continues to grow every year, Khan said.
“Every single year, we see an increase in people and involvement and awareness. Which is pretty incredible considering Community Connections has been around since 1985,” she said.
The nonprofit currently serves about 1,400 clients across a five-county region, and programs accommodate people of all age ranges.
Lisa Branner, Community Connections’ vice president of marketing and development, who leads organizational efforts for the Festival of Trees every year, said money raised through the auction finances the nonprofit’s operational expenses.
“We’re not paid for the services as much as it costs us to provide the services. So there’s always gaps,” she said. “And this is one of the ways that we fill that. It (allows us to) continue to provide services even if we’re not reimbursed at the full cost.”