Admiring the trees that have been decorated as part of the Festival of Trees, Shaun Cerisano admits he gets emotional when looking at one particular tree.
The tree was decorated by five-year-old Reid Van Rossum, as part of the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser in support of the B.C. Children’s Hospital at the Bay Centre and the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
The tree is decorated with ice skating ornaments, fishing lures, as well as mini basketball, football, baseball and soccer ornaments.
“They’re the favourite things that (Reid) loves in life and the things that he gets to do thanks to the surgeries and treatment that he had at B.C. Children’s Hospital,” said Cerisano, philanthropy manager for B.C. Children’s Hospital Foundation Vancouver Island.
“When I see stuff like that, the emotional connection to the decor, that really hits home.”
Reid was born with a congenital heart defect called pulmonary atresia with intact ventricular septum, in which a valve failed to develop and obstructed the connection between the right and left ventricles of his heart.
Over the next three years, he endured a three-stage procedure, ending with a complex surgery this summer that helped supply blood to the lungs.
After recovering and now five-years-old, Reid is more energetic than ever and able to enjoy the simple things such as running around and playing with his sister — even having enough energy to decorate a tree as part of the festival.
This year, the festival is celebrating 25 years in Victoria, with a record-breaking 85 trees — 65 of which are at the Bay Centre, while the other 20 are located at the Empress Hotel. The trees were decorated by sponsors, local businesses, organizations and individuals.
The festival was originally started by a volunteer committee, who realized the hospital benefits many patients who travel from Vancouver Island to the Mainland for treatment as well.
After more than two decades, many families continue to make a tradition out of the downtown festival — coming back year after year to check out the trees.
“Families will take their children and their grandchild and will go and look at the trees that we have. They’re really creative and really unique. It gives families an opportunity to celebrate the holidays,” Cerisano said, adding there are trees that have been decorated in the theme of Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss, as well as trees decorated by a bridal store that have been shaped into wedding dresses.
“Families can teach their children as they’re looking at these trees that there are children in our province who aren’t as fortunate as them and have gone through a health crisis at a young age.”
The goal is to raise $200,000. So far, they’ve raised more than $140,000, surpassing last year’s total of $136,000. The public is able to vote for their favourite tree by texting “Tree” to 45678 to make a donation.
Funds raised go towards the Excellence in Child Health Fund, which supports research into childhood diseases, life-saving equipment and rehabilitation.
The Festival of Trees runs until Jan. 3.