Searching for inspiration for finishing this year’s Christmas décor? What better place to find it than Elf Expressway or Stocking Stuffer Street?
These are not city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style. This “intersection” is inside the Greenville Convention Center, where volunteers have decked the halls for the 2021 Festival of Trees.
For more than a quarter century, this annual event has not only illuminated the spirit of the season, it has illustrated the show of support for Family Support Network of Eastern North Carolina. Dozens of trees have been decorated for this year’s event, a fundraiser for the nonprofit organization that provides emotional support and resource information for families of children with developmental, physical, behavioral or medical needs and families who have experienced the death of a child.
“The Festival of Trees is more than just the trees,” Executive Director Kelly Phillips said. “This is our primary fundraiser, and its success really drives our ability to provide programming for the upcoming year.”
For the second consecutive year, FSN will not host its annual fundraising gala that usually accompanies the festival, and its silent auction has been converted into an online only event. Still, some 50 trees decorated for the 26th annual festival will remain on display through Dec. 23. Trees may be viewed from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
“In the past, a lot of people had events at the Convention Center, so people saw the trees that way,” Phillips said. “During the weekdays there are few people there, so it really should be a safe holiday activity that individuals or families can go and do.”
The festival, which began in 1995 with about a dozen trees, has spread out along hallways given festive street names in keeping with the occasion. Decorating themes range from classic (Grady-White Boats’ “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas) to clever. (20/20 Vision Center’s tree features eye-chart decorations that spell out holiday messages including “Carol of the Bells” and “Frosty the Snowman.”) Some, such as Carolina Windows and Doors’ “Dinosaur Holiday” and Heart for ENC’s “Toyland,” are whimsical. Others are nostalgic. Powell Medical Equipment’s “Christmas Tree Farm” is adorned with barns and old-fashioned pick-up trucks.
“Christmas Under Construction,” from longtime sponsor Service Roofing Sheet Metal, is topped with a bow made of yellow caution tape. The tree, decorated by the National Association of Women in Construction, is filled with tiny, yellow hard hats and toy screwdrivers, saws and wrenches.
A tree representing the Aurora Fossil Museum features sharks and sharks’ teeth. Among the red and gray decorations are a few ornaments that look like disco balls, maybe to indicate that the music of that era has gone the way of the dinosaur.
“Holiday Goals,” sponsored by the Pitt Greenville Soccer Association, is decorated with team photos, along with soccer-ball ornaments and ribbons. A “Holiday Hospitality” tree, which celebrates food service workers, includes cups and plates, spoons and platters.
Some trees convey a deeper sentiment. “Snow Days,” sponsored by Orthodics and Prosthetics East, is in memory of 13 servicemen and women killed earlier this year in Afghanistan and of the 20th anniversary of people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks.
“The Giving Tree,” the only unfinished tree in the display, invites festival-goers to make a donation to Family Support Network and then, using supplies provided on a table beside it, to create an ornament to place on the tree.
Following a year in which many of its services it provides in an 18-county region had to be offered online due to COVID-19, Phillips is grateful for every contribution from businesses, individuals and organizations.
“A lot of the trees are sponsored by people or companies that have been involved with us for some time or are connected to our mission,” she said. “We are so thankful to the community for continuing to support us.”
McGee Chiropractic signed on as a sponsor more than two decades ago when the Festival of Trees was just getting started at ECU’s Willis Building on First Street. Patti McGee and her husband, Dr. Dennis McGee, were introduced to Family Support Network by a family friend who served on the organization’s board of directors. Patti had not seen an organization like FSN in Iowa, where she had worked as a special education teacher.
“I know how much in need some families are of support,” she said. “I was pretty impressed that these people come together and do this amazing work for these families that are going through a crisis.”
For FSN, which will celebrate its 35th anniversary in 2022, the festival stands as a reminder of how those years have been spent in service to more than 25,000 families.
“It is a fundraiser for us, but I think we also view it as a celebration at the end of the year of our families, of our organization, of the community that supports us,” Phillips said. “We’re called the Family Support Network, so we do support families, but we also celebrate families. I think that this is kind of a great cap to the year.”
The 2021 Festival of Trees Silent Auction continues live through Dec. 4. Participants may view auction items at www.32auctions.com/FSNENC2021. The Festival of Trees display, free to view, continues through Dec. 23 at the Convention Center, 303 S.W. Greenville Blvd.