Festival of Trees returns, Dec. 5

Press release from Children’s Center of Transylvania County: 

Scores of volunteers at the Children’s Center of Transylvania County here are scurrying through a checklist of last-minute preparations for one of the area’s biggest holiday happenings, the Festival of Trees.

It’s a major fund-raiser for the Children’s Center, which runs programs for children who are victims of neglect or abuse, or are at risk. The Festival, featuring a display of some 25 lavishly decorated Christmas trees, is being held for the second year at Brevard College’s Porter Center for the Performing Arts, just off North Broad Street near downtown Brevard.

It opens Thursday, Dec. 5, and will run until the following Sunday afternoon. Admission is only $5 (children under 13 are free) because the Center earns most of its revenue from the event through the sale of the trees, a raffle, and sales in the Festival’s Gift Shop, Bake Shop and Café.

“This is not only an important fund-raiser for our Children’s Center,” said Roberta Hallinen, who is both co-chair of the event and chair of the Center’s Board of Directors, “but it’s also a lot of fun for the adults and children who come and the volunteers who put it all together.”

This year the organizers are adding something to take advantage of almost everyone carrying a cell phone camera these days. “We’re going to have a Santa Claus Friday and Saturday from 4 to 8 for anyone who wants to pose their kiddies with him, and it won’t cost a penny!” said Misty Huntley, the Festival’s other co-chair.

The Festival hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and 11 to 3 on Sunday.

A long history

In the past, the popular event had a historic 22-year run, most of that time at the old Silvermont Mansion on East Main Street in town. That ended six years ago and the Center concentrated on other fund-raisers for five years. Then, last year, it resurrected the Festival with new energy, for the first time at the college location.

“The Porter Center is a perfect venue, said Kathie Williams, the Children’s Center executive director. “It’s spacious, attractive and has lovely grounds… all close to downtown.”

The Porter Center is less than three blocks north of downtown, on the college’s verdant campus, where its famous white squirrels often scamper among the treetops and lawns. Williams says sighting one of the squirrels could add to the fun for visiting children.

This year the Center entrance will be decorated with something new for the Festival, wooden Christmas trees, each with scores of twinkling white lights. The stylized trees were made by two volunteer woodworkers and will be on sale for home interior or exterior decorating.

Inside, the live, fresh-cut fraser fir trees – from 6 to 8 feet tall – are being decorated by volunteer individuals, organizations and businesses. The trees have already been pre-sold to patrons for up to $500 each and each is loaded with up to 500 lights. They will be spaced around the building’s two-story lobby and its upper level. That upper level will also have the Gift Shop, Bake Shop and Café.

Visitors will be able buy a treat at the Bake Shop, which will offer cakes and cookies and other treats donated by some 50 home bakers, then sit down with a cup of coffee at the Café and enjoy it right there among the trees, said Hallinen.

‘People’s choice’

Visitors will also get a chance to vote for their favorite decorated trees. Each will get three paper clips upon entering, then deposit them in receptacles at the trees. The tree with the most paper clips at the end is crowned “The People’s Choice” and the decorators are honored.

“It kind of rewards all the wonderful, creativity we see from these very artistic volunteer decorators, who spend so much time creating,” said Hallinen. “They deserve a lot of the credit for the Festival’s success.”

Visitors can take home their own miniature versions of the display trees: Decorated four-foot artificial trees will be on sale. “They’re perfect gifts!” said Huntley.

Throughout the Festival, volunteers will be selling tickets for a raffle containing eight gift baskets. One of them is called “A Taste of Brevard” and is filled with more than $300 worth of dining certificates from 10 local restaurants. Two are named “Explore Brevard” and contain gift certificates from local shops. All the certificates are donated by business owners.

Tickets will be $1, six for $5 and 12 for $10.

A preview peek

A Preview Gala will be held among the trees Wednesday, Dec. 4, from 6 to 8:30, the night before the Festival opens. The Children’s Center has sent out hundreds of invitations to past supporters, but the event is open to all. Tickets, which cost $80, are still available by calling the Center at 885 7286.

Brevard College Catering will serve a lavish buffet dinner, with tables on the Porter Center’s main floor. A bar will offer complimentary wine and beer.

To add to the Gala fun, Hallinen’s two granddaughters, Ali Carter and Brooke Williams, will circulate among the diners, dressed as elves, to begin the sale of the raffle tickets. “They are so cute together,” said Hallinen, “perfect for the role and they love doing it.”

There’ll be music throughout the Festival. At the Gala a jazz quartet will play outside at the entrance and 20 members of a church dulcimer group will play inside. And during the following days there’ll be recorded seasonal music.

Volunteers make it

It takes a village to produce the Festival, says Hallinen. The first meetings of the year begin in January and the pace steps up as the year progresses. Most of the volunteers are women, from the bakers in home kitchens to those who fashion many of the items in the Gift Shop, the handmade Gala invitations, the posters and signs. “You name it,” said Huntley, “this is a production of local love. The hours put in are mountainous!”

The women volunteers do point to others who help, too. For instance, young men and women from the Schenck Job Corps in Pisgah National Forest have been a fixture at the Festivals for years, doing much of the heavy work setting up and cleaning up. And Gaia Herbs, a large business just south of Brevard, provides a truck and helpers to deliver the trees at the end.

“I say it all the time: We’d never be able to do this without the wonderful people who pitch in,” says Hallinen.

And how about Hallinen herself, who’s been a Festival worker in one capacity or another for years? How many hours has she put in this year?

“Oh, dear God!” she laughed. “I’m sure I’ve spent a thousand hours of my time!”

For more information about the Festival, go to the Children’s Center’s website, childrenscenteroftc.org, or its Facebook page.

Williams, the executive director, said the Center, a private, non-profit agency, hopes to raise close to $20,000 from the Festival this year. The money will help pay for its many programs for children. It operates in offices at 95 South Johnson St. in Brevard, with two staff members and its many volunteers.

The Center’s budget averages $165,000 a year, with much of it coming from individual donations, grants and support from United Way of Transylvania County. Williams says the organization performs some 2,700 individual contact services a year.

On the Saturday of the Festival the local Chamber of Commerce will help kick off the holiday season with its 48th annual Downtown Brevard Christmas Parade. The theme this year is “A Heroes Christmas: A Salute to Our Veterans.” It will be followed by the annual Twilight Tour hosted by the Heart of Brevard, a merchants’ organization.

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