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Volunteers find satisfaction in helping with holiday festival

Alison Geiger of Alilu Studios in Willmar puts together some of the designer decorated Christmas trees which will be auctioned off during during this year's annual Rice Foundation Festival. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)

By the time the Rice Health Foundation's annual holiday festival next weekend is over and done with, more than 100 volunteers will have been involved in everything from handing out programs to enlisting corporate sponsors.

This year's festival will be held Nov. 13 and 14 at the Willmar Conference Center and Holiday Inn. It is the Rice Health Foundation's main fund-raising effort of the year. Organizers hope to raise $75,000 to support the Grief Center at Rice Memorial Hospital.

Volunteers have been working since March to organize the two-day event, said Jean Raatz, manager of the Rice Health Foundation.

Although it's an enormous commitment, it's one that volunteers find worthwhile, she said.

"Community means a lot to them but also they're good at what they do," she said. "They really like being a part of this."

Deanna Savoie, chairman of this year's event, has been involved with the Rice Health Foundation fundraiser since 1999. Her first volunteer assignment: decorating a Christmas tree, sponsored by the hospital's dialysis center, to be auctioned off.

"I thought, 'Oh, this would be so fun to decorate a tree for them,'" she said.

The following year she was asked to help with the silent auction. She has been a volunteer for the event ever since.

Many of the volunteers come back year after year, Savoie said. "People really just take hold and come together."

Nine committees, totaling 30 people, oversee the event. They plan and organize details such as the decorations, the dinner menu and the publicity. This year a volunteer position was added for data management.

"You can't fill a room with 400-plus people and all the activities we're doing single-handedly," Raatz said.

The Rice Health Foundation's first holiday festival, in 1997, was a one-day affair. Over the years it has expanded into two days that include a formal dinner, silent and live auctions, displays of creative table settings, and decorations that this year are inspired by the Parisian atmosphere of "Moulin Rouge."

The amount of money that's raised has grown over the years as well. Raatz said last year's holiday festival netted more than $75,000 for an initiative led by Rice Hospital to speed the response time for cardiac emergencies.

Organizers aren't sure what to expect this year during a time of economic hardship, but Raatz said she'd "be thrilled if we can net the same."

About 400 tickets are sold for the Friday-night dinner and auction. A Saturday luncheon and review of table settings and holiday decorations usually draws another 500 people.

Thanks to donations and the large roster of volunteers, the event is able to hold down its expenses so as much money as possible can be raised for the designated beneficiary.

"Our goal is to make money, not spend it," Savoie said. "Having the volunteers is 100 percent necessary."

Ticket information

The Rice Health Foundation's holiday festival and gala dinner starts at 6 p.m. Friday at the Holiday Inn and Willmar Conference Center. Tickets are $60 per person.

To check on ticket availability, call the Rice Health Foundation office at 231-4141.

The luncheon and table setting review will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 14. Lunch will be served from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tickets for the review and lunch are $12 in advance if purchased by Tuesday or $15 at the door. Tickets for the review only are $5.

Tickets can be purchased at Rice Memorial Hospital.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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