One of the area’s most popular and favorite holiday events, the Sandhills Children’s Center Festival of Trees can bring in upwards of 10,000 attendees in a good year.
Yet not even a global pandemic could put a damper on the Christmas spirit at this year’s event. Organizers raised over $150,000 to benefit special needs children who receive therapy at the nonprofit developmental day school headquartered in Southern Pines.
“We usually work with around 80 designers and we joke that they are never in competition with each other, they are in competition with their own tree from last year. They want to get more bids and raise more money each year. That is how this event keeps getting better,” said Teresa Copper, Sandhills Children’s Center director of events and community relations.
The 24th Annual Festival of Trees took place this year, Nov. 18-22, at The Carolina Hotel in Pinehurst. As usual, it featured decorated trees, wreaths, centerpieces, gift baskets, raffles and more than could be bid on in-person or through an online auction.
An advanced ticketing system was for crowd control with social distancing restrictions in place across the state. Due to limited capacity, this year only 2,000 visited — less than a quarter of regular attendance; however, donations came pouring in.
“We raised about 75 percent of what we raised last year. We feel very blessed and grateful to the entire community,” Copper said. “The pandemic has not meant we’ve stopped providing therapy for these children. We have not stopped work and the demand for these programs has not stopped.”
A central part of each year’s festival is the Angel Tree. This is the Children’s Center’s own tree that is filled with angels representing wish list items for classrooms. This year’s Angel Tree “went virtual” and the community responded heartily.
“That was a huge success in the online auction. We sold more angels than ever before, said Jeanie Eastman.
A professional interior designer, Eastman helped establish the very first Festival of Trees and has served as event chairman many times, including this year.
“We’ve been fortunate. Our donors have stepped up just like in the past,” Eastman said. “We had first moved the auction online six years ago, so were lucky that we didn’t have to learn that piece of it too.”
“It went so smoothly. It was just like clockwork.”
Festival organizers also used an automated system for designers to schedule pick-up and delivery of greenery, and auction winners signed up for time slots to pick up their items.
“Our designers really knocked it out of the park this year. We were full on the number of people who wanted to decorate by early October — the space can only hold so many trees — that was the earliest ever,” Copper said.
One of her favorite trees was donated by Pinehurst Surgical Clinic decorated in the theme of Dr. Seuss’s classic children’s story, How The Grinch Stole Christmas.
“This was their first year decorating. We don’t have a rookie award but they would have won it. They did a great job,” Copper said.
Other spectacular offerings included a “bucket list” tree donated by Pinehurst Resort that included an incredible assortment of unique gifts and goodies, in addition to rounds of golf.
But the Christmas tree that received the most bids was donated by Coldwell Banker Advantage. It featured, among other things, a fur rug and “more liquor than anyone could ever drink,” laughed Copper.
For more information about Sandhills Children’s Center, visit sandhillschildrenscenter.org/