Winnie the Pooh relaxes on the branches of a Christmas tree at the annual Festival of Trees celebration year at the Clarion Inn. This year, because of Covid restrictions, the festival will be a virtual event. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell).

ONTARIO – The Festival of Trees, one of the biggest and most popular local fundraisers, will go online this year while another annual holiday event is canceled because of new Covid mandates handed down by Gov. Kate Brown last week.

The restrictions mean the Festival of Trees, now entering into its 32nd year, will be a virtual event. In past years, the festival drew throngs to see fully decorated trees and other holiday décor that could be bought.

Under new state rules in effect on Wednesday, Nov. 13, no more than six people are allowed in a social gathering. In a stark departure from past mandates, Brown said she would issue an executive order and a directive to police to issue criminal citations to those who do not follow the new mandates.

Also, restaurants and bars will have to close their doors and provide only takeout service while gyms and other fitness outlets will be closed.

Debbie Blackaby, event organizer, said that beginning Friday, interested individuals can go to the Festival of Trees Facebook page where photos of the decorated trees will be available. Details on how to bid for the trees was not immediately available.

The festival is a major source of support for Meals on Wheels and Help Them To Hope. About 75% of the funds generated from the festival goes to Meals on Wheels while 25% goes to Help Them to Hope. Help Them To Hope is a local Christmas relief effort that provides food and toys to families.

Four Rivers Cultural Center was to be the site for this year’s festival. In the past, the festival was held at the Clarion Inn in Ontario.

“It was going to be exciting for us to able to host this profound community event,” said Tanya Navarrete, marketing and development director for the center.

Another popular holiday event, the Thanksgiving lunch sponsored by the Nyssa Nazarene Church, is also canceled because of Covid, said pastor Steve Wilson.

“We had to evaluate the risk factors. So, we waved it off this year. It came down to group size,” said Wilson.

Wilson said the event usually draws a large crowd and organizers could not guarantee social distancing measures.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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