CLEARWATER — In this post-election season, we have one more winner to call: the UPARC Foundation's 28th annual Festival of Trees. It's coming to Clearwater's Long Center Friday through Sunday.
This week amateur and professional decorators have scurried around the Long Center, bringing to life this year's festival theme, "A Florida Christmas." Tropical colors, sea creatures, waterfowl and even sand flocking are among the decorating techniques that have been used.
The Festival of Trees is a harbinger of the holidays for many Pinellas families. And this year there is a new addition: a food truck rally, which will line the Long Center's parking lot Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Inside the Long Center, visitors can take a yuletide stroll along winding paths lined with about 100 festal trees, each laden with ornaments, lights and other flourishes. The trees, decorated by businesses, community leaders and artists, are for sale along with hand-decorated wreaths, ornaments and centerpieces.
Proceeds from the sale of tickets ($5) and the holiday items benefit the UPARC Foundation, which supports 19 group homes and services and programs for developmentally challenged Pinellas residents. The foundation's headquarters are inside the Long Center.
UPARC's development coordinator, Madison Orr, expects this to be a banner year for the Festival of Trees, despite the economy.
"The event hasn't even begun and we've already reached our goal of $100,000 through our sponsorships," she said. "I think it's been at least 10 years since we've done that."
Doors open to the public at 9 a.m. Friday. Get there early for the best selection of merchandise. If you want to buy a tree, no tree-chopping or heavy-lifting skills are necessary. UPARC representatives will deliver the festooned trees to their destinations after the festival.
Friday night's Premiere Night Gala will offer live entertainment, libations and tastes from 10 restaurants: Bon Appetit, Clear Sky Beachside Café, E & E Stakeout Grill, En Garde Catering, Guppy's, Island Way Grill, Marlin Darlin, Rumba Island Bar & Grill, Salt Rock Grill and the Black Pearl.
"By the time you get to all 10, you'll have had your dinner," Orr said.
Tickets to the gala cost $75 per person, but $50 each for those younger than 30.
At the gala, you can also bid on dozens of items, including a lobster dinner for eight, a 2013 Tampa Bay Rays experience, a 9-foot tree decorated by floral designer Allen Arnold, and original artwork created for this year's Festival of Trees by UPARC's Michael Miniera, a Harborside Studio artist.
In keeping with the Florida Christmas theme, Santa will make his official arrival by golf cart Saturday at 10 a.m. (He'll be available for photos all three days.)
Local choral and dance groups will entertain each day.
"This is our biggest community event; we have something for everybody," Orr said. "We hope people will come out, get in the holiday spirit, and select a tree or wreath for their home, business or to donate to another charity."
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.