WATERVILLE — The first floor of the Hathaway Creative Center on Water Street is being transformed into a holiday wonderland as area businesses and organizations prepare for the third annual Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees.

The event raises critical funds for three charities — Spectrum Generations’ Meals on Wheels, Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area and the Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers.

Last year the event raised a net total of more than $200,000, according to Kimberly N. Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, which in the spring gave the festival the 2016 Community Service Project of the Year Award.

Businesses and organizations this week are erecting and decorating 70 holiday trees in the former mill building and placing thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise under them. Visitors to the festival, which opens Friday, may buy tickets for 50 cents each and place them in buckets next to the trees and accompanying gifts they wish to win. Names of winners will be drawn the last day of the festival, Nov. 26.

Rita and Doug Sukeforth and their family host the fundraiser. Rita Sukeforth said it is a way to help those in need and, at the same time, take part in a festival that produces a happy time for all.

“We’re fortunate that the businesses help us,” she said.

The festival runs Friday through Sunday this weekend, as well as Nov. 24-26. It is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Nov. 19 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 26. Admission costs $2 per person and is free for children under 12. Tickets are drawn at 5 p.m. Sundays during the festival as part of a 50-50 event. Names of tree winners will be posted on the festival’s Facebook page before noon Nov. 27 and winners also will be called by staff members the previous evening.

Last year, more than 15,000 people attended the festival, which was held in the room now occupied by Hathaway Mill Antiques.

This year, it will be on the same floor in two large rooms across the hall from each other. Santa Claus will be on hand and Santa’s Snack Shack will sell beef stew, chicken chili, chop suey and other snacks and drinks.

On Tuesday at Hathaway, Sue Blaisdell, who with her husband, Doug Blaisdell, own Doug’s Garage Inc. in Benton, was working on a 10-foot-tall white tree with pink decorations and tiny white lights. The theme of the tree is “Breast Cancer Awareness.” Blaisdell’s daughter, Andrea Manzo, and a friend, Cindy Witham, were helping.

Blaisdell said her family has taken part in the festival all three years and started preparing for this year’s event before Christmas last year.

Her family has put about $2,000 into this year’s tree, decorations and gifts that include a woman’s pink bicycle, a Yeti cooler, mittens, socks and towels, as well as tools, gift certificates, a David Ortiz jersey, an overstuffed chair and an ottoman.

“It’s just a yearlong process of finding things,” Blaisdell said, adding that a $100 donation will be given to the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in the name of whoever wins the tree and gifts.

Blaisdell, who is on the festival committee, said raising awareness about cancer is important to her family.

“I’ve had (family members) go through cancer in the last five years,” she said. “It’s the least we can do.”

Susan Roy, executive director of the local volunteer hospice organization, was decorating a white tree topped with a black top hat and laden with little winter village houses and lots of battery-operated candles and lights around the tree’s base. Those helping Roy included Bette and Dale Foster, who recently moved to Maine from Rochester, N.Y.

“We are blessed this year because Bette and Dale closed their business and donated all these lights to us, so we’re just thrilled,” Roy said.

The festival, she said, provides Hospice with much needed money.

“It’s huge for us,” she said. “Because of this festival, we’re able to continue our programming. I don’t know what we’d do without it.”

Janice and Chad Partridge, owners of Cappza’s Pizza in Waterville, were setting up their pizza-themed tree and related gifts, including a pizza puzzle, a deluxe children’s kitchen and certificates for 52 free pizzas.

“We love it,” Janice Partridge said of the festival. “I’m so excited to be part of it.”

Tammy Richards, administrative assistant at Choice Investments in Waterville, was decorating a Grinch tree with a friend, Joyce Roach. Like Blaisdell, Richards said the investment firm has participated in the festival all three years. The Grinch tree comes with a special gift, according to Richards — “a three-day, two-night stay at the Bethel Inn with $400 in spa (funds), dinner and breakfast each day, a sleigh ride and ski or golf package.”

The Sukeforths’ daughter, Annette Sukeforth Marin, who also was preparing for the festival Tuesday, said she thinks the two-room setup will work well. A lot of new organizations joined this year, she said.

She said her family for years held a pig roast fundraiser in Solon and three years ago decided to try the tree festival, which has exceeded expectations and has proven to be a fun and popular event.

“Both my husband, Bob, and Dad are Shriners, and we got the idea from them,” she said. “It has worked out great, and they (Shriners) helped us start. It gets everybody into the spirit.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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