Man steals odd array of gifts from downtown Christmas festival

During the last two weekends of November, the Sukeforth Family kicked off the holiday season with the third annual Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees in downtown Waterville. The Sukeforth family has thrown annual holiday fundraisers since 2008. From 2008-2014, they hosted a pig roast and auction at their family camp in Bingham. However, in 2015, they decided to shift the event to something a little different. Inspired by the Anah Shrine Festival of Trees in Bangor, they began hosting the Festival of Trees in 2015. All proceeds from the two-weekend event benefit hospice volunteers of the Waterville Area, Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers, and Spectrum Generations Muskie Center Meals on Wheels.

This year’s event was held in the Hathaway Creative Center, and between 22,000 and 24,000 people of all ages flocked to admire the magnificent tree display and enter for their chance to win one of the elaborate trees to take home. 70 of these fully-decorated trees (each with gifts underneath) were on display for attendees to choose from (or simply admire). Local businesses and companies from the Waterville area donate a fully-decorated tree and gifts. This year, tree sponsors included Dunkin Donuts, the Children’s Discovery Museum, Cappaza’s Pizza, the Waterville Lumber Company, L.L. Bean, and many others.

For just a two-dollar entry fee for guests 12 and up (children under 12 are admitted free) and just 50 cents per raffle ticket, festival attendees could enter raffle tickets for their chance to win one of the fully decorated trees, as well as all of the gifts underneath. This year, lottery tickets from Maine General Home Care and Hospice and the L.L. Bean tree from Golden Pond Wealth were among the most popular items.

Despite the intense preparation for the event, however, this year’s Festival was mildly challenged by the theft of several items from under the trees between the two festival weekends. Annette Marin, Committee Chair, spoke to the details of the incident.

“Lottery tickets and various other items (kayaks, tools, etc.) [were stolen],” Marin said in an email interview with the Echo, “The Police called when items were reported in the back alley of the Hathaway building.”

A kayak, tools, bottle of wine, and over $1000 in lottery tickets were stolen from the display. Fortunately, the Waterville Police Department was able to recover most of the stolen items and make an arrest. On Nov. 22, Bobby Campbell, 51, was arrested on burglary and theft charges.

“The Waterville Police Department was able to recover the large items, all expect the lottery tickets, which community members donated and the family purchased to bring the tree back to original value,” Marin explained.

After dealing with this incident, next year’s Festival will undergo some procedural changes to prevent another theft from occurring.

“We will have more security next year and hope that this charity event will not be disturbed by another criminal,” Marin commented.

Despite the theft, the Festival officials and attendees still managed to maintain a positive outlook and execute a successful event. Marin spoke to the power of this undying energy in maintaining a festive atmosphere, explaining that one of the many highlights from the Festival was seeing the “community [rally] together in the holiday spirit, especially after the criminal incident.”

This incident has not severely tainted the local perception of the event. The response to the Festival has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. The Festival has quickly become a favorite annual event amongst local families. Attendees say the Festival “gets better every year,” drawing them back to see what each year’s display has in store. Young families have started attending the Festival with their children as a new holiday tradition. Older generations as well, with handicap access to all areas of the Festival, enjoy exploring all of the elaborate trees. Attendees also spoke to the selflessness and genuine nature of the Sukeforth and Marin families, who host the event each year. Being immersed in such a festive, spiritual, warm, and giving environment is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.

The Festival is expected to have an even larger turnout next year. For a complete list of tree winners, tree sponsors, and photos from the Festival, see the Festival’s Facebook page.