LEWISTON — The Kora Shriners annual FEZtival of Trees returns in-person this year after going online-only last year due to COVID-19, but they’ll be going without the one thing that helped them through the pandemic: an online raffle.

Taking advantage of an emergency measure to help charities cope with revenue losses connected to COVID-19, the state last year allowed nonprofits to hold online raffles to boost their fundraising.

Among the organizations that took advantage of the opportunity was the Kora Shrine Temple in Lewiston, which had a “very successful” fundraiser, Potentate Brent Tanguay said Monday. That helped the organization deal with the inability to have people come see the trees at its temple.

This year, the group hoped to supplement a return to its in-person FEZtival of Trees, which opens Friday, with another online raffle to provide “a safe alternative” for supporters who remain wary of being around people who might be contagious with COVID-19. That, however, didn’t work out.

Kim Visbaras works on his FEZtival of Trees display Monday at the Kora Shrine Temple in Lewiston. Visbaras’ law firm, Visbaras Law & Excalibur Title Co. of Maine, is the sponsor of the Christmas tree display. The FEZtival opens 9 a.m. Friday. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

They found out recently that a new state law meant to pave the way for online raffles for nonprofits also imposed new requirements that the Shriners couldn’t meet.

“Rather than have an illegal raffle,” Tanguay said, “we decided to just drop that” until next year.

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While the loss of an online raffle will mean a substantial reduction in the money raised, Tanguay said, the in-person FEZtival at its Sabattus Street temple will go on as planned with safety measures built in to try to thwart the spread of COVID-19.

Tanguay said some of the changes made to the two-floor display of more than 50 trees include adopting one-way traffic flow, masking for all the volunteers and more cleaning. The group is advising people who attend wear masks, but they are not required.

While the group expects to do well with its in-person event, which has become a community favorite after 16 years, it had hoped to raise a fair amount with an online raffle as well.

Tanguay said that after the emergency raffle permission last year, Shriners were among those pushing to make online raffles possible every year for nonprofits that are always struggling to raise enough cash.

When lawmakers in Augusta agreed, he thought all was set.

It turned out, however, that one of the law’s provisions requires that groups use “licensed internet raffle operators with certified systems.” At this point, there are none licensed in Maine. They are not allowed to seek an internet raffle operator based out of state.

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Even so, Tanguay said the group thought the new law would apply next year and that this year, they’d operate under the same rules as last year.

That turned out to be mistaken.

“We were not correct in our thinking,” Tanguay said, and only discovered the problem after it was too late to do anything about it.

He said he hopes the community will prove generous and help close the gap between what the group aimed to make this year and the loss of the online raffle.

Tickets for the festival, which cost $6 each for those 12 and up, are available online at korashriners.org/feztival. Children under 12 can attend for free with a paying adult. The festival runs until Saturday, Nov. 27.

Proceeds help benefit the Kora Shrine’s projects.


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