Festival of Trees 2021: Kennedy Krieger Institute’s annual holiday event returns The festival is back this year with a toy drive and many virtual activities

Calvert Hall inspired tree Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees
A Calvert Hall-inspired tree for the 2021 Festival of Trees | Photo: Kennedy Krieger Institute


The Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Festival of Trees returns this holiday season at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

Visitors can drop by from Nov. 26 through 28 to donate items for the toy drive. The traditional sale of more than 500 trees, wreaths and gingerbread houses decorated by local families, organizations and businesses to support children with disabilities will be conducted online.

“The community has been so supportive of the Institute during this historical time as we have worked to serve our patients, students and families during the coronavirus pandemic,” says Brad Schlaggar,  president and CEO of the institute, in a news release.

The festival went virtual for the first time last year to adhere with COVID-19 restrictions, yet it still attracted 30,000 views and raised $650,000.

Now in its 32nd year, Festival of Trees has raised more than $24 million for Kennedy Krieger’s programs and more than 1 million people had attended in person as of 2019. The 150,000-square-foot Cow Palace at the fairgrounds made it one of the largest holiday events on the East Coast.

Proceeds support the institute’s inpatient and outpatient medical, behavioral health and wellness therapies; home and community services; school-based programs; training and education for professionals and advocacy.

Festival organizers wanted to bring back a bit of the joy of seeing one another in person this year, while still taking precautions to keep everyone safe.

“When we began planning this, vaccines were not yet available for children,” says Jessica Gregg, director of public relations for Kennedy Krieger.

Jess Sparwasser of Fallston and family Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees 2021
A tree decorated by Jess Sparwasser, of Fallston, and her family for the 2021 Festival of Trees | Photo: Kennedy Krieger Institute


Given that children with neurodevelopmental disabilities are a large part of the patient population at Kennedy Krieger, and those patients are at greater risk of adverse effects from the COVID-19 virus, organizers felt it was important to ensure they were protected, she says.

But there was no way Kennedy Krieger was going to cancel the tradition, she adds, and staff took care to provide an in-person component this year.

On site at the 2021 festival will be a drive-through toy drive on Friday and Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring music and visits from Santa Claus and friends.

Santa waves at the 2019 Festival of Trees
Santa waves at the 2019 Festival of Trees | Photo: Jason Putsche Photography

Not to leave out those who plan to attend online this year, the weekend also will include online Q&As — with Santa at 7 p.m. on Friday — and with Disney princesses.

Linda Schaefer Cameron, Kennedy Krieger’s vice president of philanthropy, notes in a news release that she is excited to kick off the festival with the toy drive, in keeping with the festival’s theme, “The Holidays Start Here.”

“The power of a gift to a child is extraordinary. We know families in our community will support this effort Thanksgiving weekend when shopping for their own families,” she says.

Trees for purchase online will include 2-foot, 4-foot and 7-foot sizes. Pickup will be available on site Sunday.

Online sales will also include an auction of memorabilia, one-of-a-kind experiences and gifts as well. Children will have plenty to entertain them with a virtual concert from Milkshake and free activities such as crafts, coloring pages and recipes.

Tickets are free when you sign up with an email address online. Check your email for event updates, tips for enjoying the virtual experience and a link when the site goes live.

For updates and more details on the festival, as well as information on COVID-19 safety precautions, visit festivaloftrees.kennedykrieger.org.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here