Auction held online due to COVID-19 safety measures

The Virginia Foundation office in Virginia has taken on a strong holiday flavor as it plays host to an assortment of trees and Chjristmas decorations which are for sale as part of the annual Festival of Trees fundraiser.

VIRGINIA — Town tree lightings and holiday fireworks displays are not just a thing made-for-TV movies. At least, not this year in Virginia.

The city plans to celebrate with a full-on celebration fit for a Hallmark Christmas flick.

“Although this is a very challenging year due to COVID-19, our nonprofits have tried to bring new events to our community that will spread a little holiday cheer to you and yours,” said Ronda “Rudy” Harvey, executive director of the Virginia Community Foundation.

The foundation, for a third year, has collaborated with the Essentia Health Foundation, the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, and ReVive Virginia, to plan the Festival of Trees, which runs now through Nov. 21.

This year’s 20th annual festival is set to include an inaugural tree lighting, luminaries, letters to Santa, a virtual auction, fireworks and a “reverse parade.”

The committee worked hard, Harvey said, to incorporate new events during a “not-so-normal holiday season,” while keeping the community’s health needs in mind considering the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In the end, it has turned into a blessing, she said. Many of the events will likely continue in years to come, making the festival’s future “extra special.”

Each of the four nonprofits took on one or more festival events, with the Virginia Community Foundation serving as the fiscal agent. Total proceeds will be divided equally among each organization, Harvey said.

“This is a wonderful way to ensure that monies raised will be put back into our community through our mission and visions and this wonderful collaboration.”

Harvey noted that the state’s COVID-19 guidelines will be followed throughout the festival, and events are subject to change if mandates are modified. Participants are asked to wear masks and practice social distancing.

The heart of the festival — the auction of decorated trees, swags, centerpieces and wreaths — will be held online this year, due to COVID-19. The auction, accessed at www.32auctions.com/FOTVirginiaMN, is open now through midnight Nov. 21. Winners will be notified Nov. 22nd with instructions on how to pick up items.

The Virginia Community Foundation office, at 303 Chestnut St., is festival headquarters and has been turned into a holiday wonderland, full of decor, Harvey said. The public is welcome to stop by to see the sights of the season.

And during those visits, children can drop off letters to Santa from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Dec.18 in the big mailbox outside the office, marked “Santa-North Pole.” Santa and his “volunteer elves” will reply to children who include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.

Another new event, the “Frost Bites 5K,” begins at 6 p.m. Thursday from the new St. Louis County building parking lot at Third Avenue and First Street. Families can run, walk, or stroll the route. Entry fee is one nonperishable food item. For more information, contact Sayer Payne at 612-423-9470.

One of the festival’s traditional events, Business After Hours, will still be held; however, COVID-19 capacity restrictions and precautions will be followed. Sponsored by the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, it is set for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at the Virginia Elk’s Club, featuring holiday spirits sampling compliments of Rocket Liquors. Cost is $10 for chamber members and $15 for non-members.

And the committee is excited to introduce a new festival event — the first-ever Virginia Christmas Tree Lighting, set for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Olcott Park Fountain deck.

The event, hosted by the community foundation, was made possible by the donation of a 30-foot tall evergreen tree donated by Mike Sjoren of Nashwauk, Harvey said. The tree will remain lit throughout the holiday season.

The evening will include Christmas carols, and community members can honor loved ones by purchasing luminaries that will be displayed at the tree lighting. Luminaries can be picked up at the community foundation office for $5, decorated and returned the week of the event.

“Due to the health guidelines at a maximum number of attendees at 50 people, please feel free to view the lighting from a safe distance or from your car,” Harvey said.

The tree lighting will be followed by a new fireworks display, hosted by the City of Virginia, starting at 5:45 p.m. on the shore of Silver Lake.

And the week will cap off with Saturday’s “reverse parade.”

Unfortunately, Harvey said, the annual Christmas parade established in recent years will not be held because of the pandemic. It truly would have been “the end of a Hallmark movie,” she said.

But the downtown will be lit in holiday cheer nonetheless.

Participants are invited to drive around town to take in the displays of lights at businesses and residences taking part in the Holiday Decorating Contest, sponsored by ReVive Virginia and the Lyric Center for the Arts.

Radio station WEVE, 97.9 FM, will play holiday music; Canelakes Candies, Loonies Coffee, and The Sugar Shack will sell hot chocolate, coffee and snacks; and community members can vote for their favorite commercial and residential holiday displays.

Harvey added that “we encourage people to shop our little downtown during the week of the festival” — and beyond.

“It was important to the committee to show unity and a strong collaboration for our community” while planning this year’s celebration, Harvey said.

Each organization benefits the community, she said.

• The Virginia Community Foundation “is a catalyst for improvement through investment of charitable resources in grant making and leadership initiatives that strengthen local organizations and enrich our social fabric,” she said.

• Essentia Health-Virginia is a viable healthcare entity that provides support to patients through its compassionate care program, and contributions to the Essentia Health Virginia Regional foundation stay local.

• The Laurentian Chamber of Commerce promotes business through education and advocacy to advance the prosperity of the region. Festival proceeds will support educational programs for local businesses in the Quad Cities communities.

• ReVive Virginia works to build and promote downtown Virginia as an exceptional place to live and work through economic development and regional promotion.

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