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Indian Creek Nature Center moves Nature's Noel fundraiser online

Mary Christensen of Robins adds dried milkweed pods to a greenery arrangement while preparing for Nature's Noel at India
Mary Christensen of Robins adds dried milkweed pods to a greenery arrangement while preparing for Nature’s Noel at Indian Creek Nature Center’s Penningroth Barn in Cedar Rapids on Saturday. The annual holiday fundraiser is moving online this year. (Liz Martin photos/The Gazette)
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Indian Creek Nature Center is singing a new tune, staging its first Noel online.

Nature’s Noel, one of the Cedar Rapids center’s oldest and most popular fundraisers, will be open for virtual shopping from noon Friday to noon Saturday. Buyers can choose a time for contactless delivery Sunday or Monday, then drive up to the maintenance shed near the Amazing Space, 5300 Otis Rd. SE.

As with the frenzy in years past during the popular in-person event, online shoppers should be quick on the draw to snag the wreaths, kissing balls, fresh greenery, handcrafted goods and homemade foods prepared or gathered by the Friends of the Nature Center, as well as seasonal products from about a dozen vendors. Birch bundles will be part of the mix, as well, made from Nature Center trees that fell during the Aug. 10 derecho.

“When selecting things, there could be someone else selecting that same item online,” warned Sarah Botkin, 44, of Cedar Rapids, the Amazing Space manger. “It’s not until you’ve hit the purchase button that you’ve actually purchased that particular item.” So don’t just add it to your shopping cart, she added. “If there’s something you really want, go after that right away, then finish your shopping.”

The center’s recent online sales have gone well, she said, with staff and volunteers building on what they’ve learned during this pandemic year.

Part of that success story, she said, has been “grabbing a new portion of patrons that maybe haven’t been able to come out for the day, but since we’ve added online, are able to jump online and make a purchase — so we feel very confident being able to make the sales and move the merchandise that we want to get out there.

“The people who have been used to coming out (to Nature’s Noel) for years and years, it is not the same for them, and we totally understand that. Fingers crossed that we’ll be able to be back in person next year. It is a lot of fun to be able to come out and see everything. It adds a little bit more excitement to it when you’re standing there, trying to choose your wreath.”

One thing that hasn’t changed is the effort put into the event by the Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center.

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“If it weren’t for them, mostly this event would not happen,” Botkin said. “They are the ones creating all of the greenery that is seen. A couple of them go out and do the cutting of the different greens that are used, like the arborvitae and some of the firs they use in the kissing balls or the table toppers.

“They fluff and buff the wreaths, get them prepped, and they’re the ones that put the creative embellishments into the wreaths, and do all of that decorating. All of that design work is done by volunteers.”

Beginning the Saturday after Thanksgiving, they turn the nature center’s Maple Sugar House and nearby Penningroth Barn into holiday workshops. They’ll have fewer workers inside at a time this year, to ensure social distancing, but the atmosphere will be the same, with a creative commotion and flourish of finery as they fest on the local fresh-cut greenery and 60 to 70 wreath forms brought in from Wisconsin, just waiting to be transformed with berries and bows, pine cones and other decorative touches.

They also prepare the frozen foods in the center’s kitchen, including the golden squash soup made from the squash grown at the center’s Etzel Sugar Grove Farm in rural Marion. Two other soups have been donated by Ramsey’s Wine Bistro in Marion and Nelson’s Meat Market in Cedar Rapids.

Friends volunteers also have assisted in person during sales past, with such duties as staffing the cash registers and helping shoppers select and carry items. This year, they’ll help fill the orders and distribute items on pickup days.

“There’s always been a large number that have helped on the day of,” Botkin said. “There’ll be much fewer on pickup days, but they are still willing to help, which is wonderful.”

Proceeds will support the Nature Center’s educational programming, which before the pandemic curtailed activities, would bring 7,000 schoolchildren to the grounds on field trips, as well as adults wanting to learn about raising backyard chickens and beekeeping.

Beyond Nature’s Noel, more gift-giving ideas await inside the center’s Amazing Space, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Among the items are locally sourced honey and maple syrup from Wisconsin, since the center’s own syrup supply can’t meet the demand, Botkin said, as well as nature-themed books, T-shirts, sustainability-related items and jewelry.

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Botkin expects virtual aspects of special events like the Maple Syrup Festival and plant sales to continue, at least through the first half of 2021.

“But then as we go forward, and do, hopefully, get back to more in-person things, we might continue to still put some items online,” she said. “I think it opens up another audience for us, so being able to turn now toward more of a hybrid model and putting a few sale items online could be beneficial. Or if it’s people who have to be at work or for some reason can’t make it out, it still benefits them and allows them to participate. ...

“It is opening up things we weren’t looking for or didn’t really have a clue about,” she said, “since we’ve had to adapt and come up with new ways all of a sudden. Maybe this new way can be adapted into what we’ve been doing and really change it up that way — trying to find that silver lining out of things and opening up new opportunities.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

At a glance

• What: Nature’s Noel, fundraiser sponsored by Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center

• When: Shop online noon Friday to noon Saturday; contactless pickup Sunday and Monday near the Amazing Space, 5300 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids. Times to be determined

• Details: Indiancreeknaturecenter.org/gallery/natures-noel/

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