By TERRI BRYCE REEVES
CLEARWATER — After being at the Harborview Center for years, then at Westfield Countryside Mall in 2009, the 26th annual Festival of Trees is "home for the holidays."
"We are where we should be," said Leeward Bean, chairman of the festival and UPARC Foundation president-elect. "UPARC is headquartered at the Long Center, and so our clients can be more of a part of the festival and the public can be more a part of UPARC. We'll take them on a tour if they want."
The UPARC Foundation supports 22 group homes for children and adults and a variety of services for the developmentally disabled.
This year's festival showcases about 100 interesting trees.
It's probably not a coincidence that in this politically charged atmosphere, patriotic red, white and blue themes dominate.
"I think it's all about the state of this country and where we are and where we're going," said Cathy Holland, executive director of UPARC Foundation.
One of them, the Mayor's Tree of Clearwater, features more than $1,000 worth of gift certificates, Bean said.
And in another sign of the times, a gay pride tree, Don We Now Our Gay Apparel, sports Ken dolls in tuxedos alongside dazzling Barbie gowns.
The tree was created by the Girlz of HarborSprings, a north Pinellas social and charitable group. Spokeswoman Karin Clare said it was dedicated to "all the gay teens who get bullied."
"We were thinking about the recent suicides and what a tragedy it was that young people get bullied to the point they feel they need to take their own lives. We wanted to let them know we are there for them and things will get better," she said.
New this year, UPARC will be selling wreaths, tabletop decorations and centerpieces along with Department 56 Christmas village pieces. Patrons can also buy undecorated trees this year.
The popular holiday cards and ornaments made by clients will be back.
Other vendors will offer food, children's clothing, blown glass and more.
Santa, "the real deal," according to Bean, arrives at noon on Saturday by helicopter.
Apparently, the powers that be didn't want to wear out the reindeer before Christmas.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.