Festival of Trees: Children's Center Benefits From Annual Event
The holiday season in Moore County has officially begun. The dazzling Festival of Trees at the Carolina Hotel of Pinehurst Resort from Wednesday, Nov. 11, through Sunday, Nov. 15, serves as a treasured reminder that the merriest time of the year is at hand.
Benefiting the Sandhills Children's Center, the annual Festival of Trees, now in its 13th year, has become known as one of the area's best fundraisers.
Molli Beeson and Bonnie Parker, who are co-chairing the event this year, agree that one of their main goals is to spread the word about the scope of the mission of the Children's Center. They explain that the center is a private, nonprofit developmental day school serving the youngest children with and without disabilities in a five-county area of the south central part of the state.
"We want people to realize the important work that is done to help these children and their families," they say.
To fully describe the winter wonderland represented by the Festival of Trees is an almost impossible task. More than 200 superbly decorated holiday trees, wreaths, garlands, tree-skirts, gingerbread creations and gift baskets are on display, and all are available for silent auction. Admission is by donation at the door, except for two special ticketed events, a Breakfast with Santa and the Lighting of the Festival of Trees.
This year the gala evening at which the major sponsors of the Festival are honored was moved from Saturday to Tuesday night, Nov. 10.
"At the start of the special night of the festival, all the lights on the 70 beautifully ornamented trees were turned off and then, in a thrilling moment, a child from the center pushed a master switch, bringing forth a blaze of color and magic," says Beeson.
The festivities, including entertainment by jazz pianist Judson Hurd, are sponsored by the King Fisher Society of Laurel Hill, a private world-class bass fishing and quail hunting preserve.
Bidding on the array of holiday decorations began last night and ends on Saturday night, with all of the selections marked with a minimum bid price and also a "Buy It Now" price. The latter designation appeals to those who want to be sure they won't be outbid.
A new concept at this year's Festival of Trees is the "Girls Night Out" Wednesday evening from 7 to 10 p.m., sponsored by Friends of Forest Creek. Beeson and Parker invite women to come in whatever they have been wearing during the day -- from business clothes to jeans and sweats.
"It will be a relaxed, fun time with a cash martini bar and music by the McKenzie Brothers Band," says Parker. "One of the highlights of the evening is a jewelry gift draw, featuring 100 gift boxes. Each box will contain a lovely pendant designed, created and donated by Jean Skipper of Artists Alley, and one box will contain an elegant pair of Slane and Slane earrings valued at $1,500."
Added to the Festival of Trees this year is "Breakfast with Santa," a ticketed event. A local professional photographer will be on hand on Saturday morning at 9 a.m. to snap pictures of children sitting on Santa's lap. Jolly Old St. Nick is none other than a regular Children's Center volunteer, Jim Horn, who delights the area's small fry with his hearty laugh and promises of presents for good boys and girls.
Saturday evening is "A Salute to the Designers" -- the individuals, businesses and groups who have created the spectacular auction items. Sponsored by the Surgery Center of Pinehurst, the event offers an opportunity to meet the artists and have a last chance to bid on the auction items, while enjoying the music of House Call, a group comprising doctors at the hospital. House Call, like all the musicians who are performing throughout the festival, have volunteered their services
Kathy Desmond, the center's director of development, has remarked on the unbelievable creativity of the designers.
"I don't have any idea where their inspiration comes from, but this is not just a tree event; it's more like an art gallery," says Desmond.
Concerned at first that the downturn in the economy might have a problematic effect on the rate of contributions this year, Desmond says, "I was glad to be wrong. The number of designers increased this year -- it seems that everyone wanted to be sure to put us over the top."
Among the many new designers that have produced a fascinating selection of holiday trees of varying sizes are Pinehurst's Lady Bedford's Tea Parlour; a Seven Lakes couple who have designed a tree called the Christmas Traveler; a collector of vintage Barbie dolls; Southern Magnolia Salon, with a Nativity-themed tree; and for dog-lovers, an entry from Canine Divine Mobile Grooming service. Other new contributors are the owner of a Christmas shop in Raleigh's Crabtree Valley Mall, who has provided a seven-foot tree with over $1,000 worth of rare collectible ornaments, and an Outback Steak House tree that includes an outdoor barbecue in the winner's backyard for 50 people.
The closing of the festival is on Sunday -- Family Day -- sponsored by the Southern Pines Women's Health Center. Santa Claus will return to hear Christmas wishes, and the ever-popular Raffle Shop will remain open until 3 p.m., when the drawings for such gifts as a flat-screen TV, an outdoor play set, a gas grill, a year of flowers from a local florist and a camping and hiking set will take place.
Beeson and Parker agree that the festival is very much a volunteer-driven event.
"When you consider the supervising committee and all of their subcommittees, add in the designers, the groups and individuals helping with set-up and dismantling, the hostesses and musicians, and scores of others who so gladly give of their time and energy to pull off the huge undertaking the festival represents, it is safe to say that several hundred people are involved," says Beeson.
Nancy Oakley has been volunteering for the past 12 years, doing a wide range of tasks. From her experience of serving as a committee chair, she says, "It doesn't take any arm-twisting to sign up people to help. Everyone is so eager to participate. It is such a happy place to be during the five-day event, and once it is over, I find myself looking ahead to next year."
Tommy Dowdy, a regular once-a-week volunteer at the Children's Center, has turned his carpentry skills to producing all of the boards used for signage and stanchions for tree stands, as well as constructing the foundation of an unusual Wine Tree. The winner of the silent auction of the Wine Tree will receive 85 bottles of selected wines.
Lisa Mudd, a member of the Junior League who has been a longtime supporter of the Festival of Trees, describes her motivation for becoming an active volunteer at the festival.
"At the United Way's Day of Caring last year, I was placed at the Sandhills Children's Center to help out with the daily activities of the amazing kids at the center," she says. "The time I spent with those sweet kids has been woven into my memory, and I am in awe of the devotion and commitment of the staff."
Beeson and Parker acknowledge the enormous role that the staff of the Carolina Hotel, a festival partner along with Time-Warner Cable, plays in the successful management of the Festival of Trees.
"Their service to us is overwhelming," says Parker.
Teresa Copper, special events coordinator for Sandhills Children's Center, adds her thanks to all the individuals, businesses and groups who have donated so much to make the 13th Annual Festival of Trees a success.
"It is especially important for us to raise as much as we can this year, since we expect an estimated drop in funding from the state and federal governments of approximately $100,000," she says. "Proceeds from the Festival will go directly to the center to help close the funding gap, making it possible for the center to continue to serve over 400 children with and without disabilities during the coming year."
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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