Rice Health Foundation to host annual holiday benefit Nov. 9 and 10

At the Rice Health Foundation's annual Holiday Festival next weekend, guests will have the chance to immerse themselves in an exotic Asian atmosphere while raising money for the hospital foundation right here in Willmar.

At the Rice Health Foundation's annual Holiday Festival next weekend, guests will have the chance to immerse themselves in an exotic Asian atmosphere while raising money for the hospital foundation right here in Willmar.

Organizers have a goal of netting $60,000 to $62,000 to help implement a nitrous oxide sedation program for children at Rice Memorial Hospital.

Volunteers have been working behind the scenes for months to stage what has, over the years, become one of the region's glitziest charity events.

"The work really goes year round. We never have a pause," said Maria Hughes, chairman of the Holiday Festival.

About 450 people are expected to buy tickets for the gala dinner and auction on Friday night at the Willmar Conference Center and Holiday Inn.


Another 500 to 600 guests will attend Saturday for a day-long review of holiday table settings and collectibles and a noon luncheon.

Organizers said they're excited about this year's Asian-themed event, which is being billed as a "Far East Odyssey."

"The people that work on this are just phenomenal. There is so much talent," Hughes said.

Allison Geiger, who heads the decorating subcommittee, said people can expect to see lots of silk lanterns, fresh orchids, and tangerine and chartreuse colors.

"Every year we come up with a list of different ideas for a theme, and the whole committee votes," she said.

The group aims for "something that's elegant and classy and high style," she said. "Something with energy and unlike any event we have in this area."

Nona Anderson and Marguerite Swenson had the task of selecting the Asian-inspired fare for the Friday night dinner and the Saturday luncheon.

First they met with the chef at the Green Mill restaurant. He then developed a list of suggestions and created several samples for taste-testing.


"It was fun," Swenson said. "Our challenge was finding something that would be appealing."

They settled on a menu that will include five-spice beef tenderloin with Asian mushrooms, macadamia-encrusted grouper with Thai coconut basil sauce and cashew-raspberry salad with sesame dressing.

For many people, the Holiday Festival is on the can't-miss list of events to attend, said Jean Raatz, coordinator of the Rice Health Foundation.

"People don't want to miss it. They're willing to plan around it," she said. "We definitely have a crowd we can always count on. Every year there's new people too."

Along with the setting and the food, guests at the gala dinner on Friday will have the chance to bid at live and silent auctions for items that include a luxury trip to California wine country, a stay at a timeshare anywhere in the world, a vacation trip to Hawaii, fishing and hunting package trips, and designer holiday wreaths and trees.

In order to net as much money as possible for the foundation, organizers rely heavily on volunteer help and donations.

More than 100 volunteers are directly involved, doing everything from designing posters and invitations to putting up decorations and handing out programs.

Many of the auction items are either provided by local businesses or underwritten by them.


Raatz said committee members "take pride in making it as fabulous as they can on a limited budget."

"You have to be as creative as you can," Geiger said. "We find a lot of discounts and people willing to donate. Obviously the Holiday Inn gives us a lot. They give us a lot of extra things -- a lot of staff time and help. This event could be way more expensive if it weren't for the support of businesses and the community."

For the Rice Health Foundation, the Holiday Festival is its signature event and main fundraiser of the year.

It's an opportunity to focus on special projects that benefit patient care, particularly projects that might be out of financial reach in the hospital's own budget.

In past years, the festival has helped fund projects such as a community health library at the hospital, radiation therapy equipment for the cancer program, and a healing garden outside the hospital's main entrance.

Festival committee members unanimously chose this year's project, a new pediatric sedation program, from a list of seven candidates.

Money raised at the Holiday Festival is critical to implementing the program, said Barb Abrams, festival chair-elect.

"If we didn't fund it, they probably wouldn't be doing it," she said.


Several departments -- including radiology, the children's unit and the emergency department -- will benefit from having a better, more calming way to sedate children during procedures, Hughes said.

"It benefits the patients. It's good for the community," she said.

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