Festival of Trees

Twenty five years ago, Outer Banks resident Mary Ann Williams brought home an idea for a fundraiser that would forever change the future of Outer Banks Hotline.

“Mary Ann came to the board of directors and said we needed a signature fundraiser that was a community-centered event,” explains Hotline Executive Director Lynn Bryant. Williams, a big supporter of Hotline and its mission, had seen a successful fundraiser for a Salt Lake City children’s hospital in which businesses donated decorated Christmas trees to auction off.

She believed it could happen on the Outer Banks and that same year, Hotline’s annual Festival of Trees was born.

“She laid out the plan for the festival and it just took off from there,” Bryant says. “She taught us how to do it.”

Hotline, first established in 1980, has a mission to promote a safe and compassionate community by providing services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The Festival of Trees turned out to be the perfect avenue to raise not only money but awareness of the group.

That first year just 15 trees were donated and the highest bid on a tree was $100. Bryant recalls the themes of those trees – one from Sam & Omie’s was adorned with fishing lures and a gift certificate for dinner at the restaurant, a Kitty Hawk Kites tree was decorated with toys, games and kites and another one from RD Sawyer Motor Company was covered with matchbox cars.

A quarter century later, the highest-priced trees now sell for as much as $8,000 and dozens are auctioned off every year. The annual fundraiser typically generates between $30,000 and $35,000 a year that goes directly to client services, the director said. Services include a domestic violence program, a 24-hour crisis line, a shelter, sexual assault response program, support groups, training and community and school outreach. It also operates a network of thrift shops on the Outer Banks. Bryant said organizers hope this holiday season will prove to be its most successful year. “We are hoping to raise $50,000 and every penny of that goes directly to client services.”

As the Festival of Trees grew, it changed venues over the years but never its mission. First held at Penguin Isle restaurant in Nags Head, it was moved to a tent at the now demolished George’s Junction. One year at George’s, a storm brought 60 mph winds and shredded the tent. “It was very memorable,” Bryant recalls.

After being held in several other locations, the festival found a new home last year at Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, where it will be held again this December 5 through 7. The three-day event typically attracts 1,500 people and auctions off roughly 30 donated trees. It is the organization’s main fundraiser and is much anticipated in the community.

To celebrate the event’s 25th anniversary, this year’s Festival of Trees will feature a Silver Anniversary Champagne Toast complete with live entertainment and fancy finger foods. Community choirs and school chorus groups will perform throughout the festival. In addition, the closing gala on December 7 “is the only black-tie Christmas event on the Outer Banks,” states Michael Lewis, Hotline’s Festival of Trees coordinator.

Become part of the Magic

Whether you would like to assist in sponsoring one of the events or would like to donate a tree, there are plenty of ways to get involved in this year’s Festival of Trees. The event is being held from Thursday, December 5 to Saturday, December 7. Trees will be delivered to the winning bidders on Sunday. Hotline is also looking for donations for its Benefit Auction and Silent Auction. Paintings, bedroom suites, motor scooters and jewelry are just some of the items that have been donated. Gift certificates and gift baskets can also be offered for the Silent Auction.

Mark the Dates

All events will be held at Jennette’s Pier. The festivities kick off on Wednesday, Dec. 4 with a tree decorating party from 4 to 9 p.m. Friends, family and co-workers of tree donors can help to decorate as you enjoy holiday music, a cash bar and a great meal.

Tree decorators that evening will also get a sneak peek of what is being sold at the Holiday Bazaar. The bazaar, being held throughout the weekend, includes new and gently used holiday decorations as well as gift items collected by volunteers and staff of Hotline’s thrift stores over the past year.

Trees will be on display on Thursday, December 5 from noon to 9 p.m. The Holiday Bazaar and Silent Auction will also be open to the public. On Friday, December 6 from noon to 5 p.m. musical performances will be held and the Holiday Bazaar will be open for business. The Silver Anniversary Toast will take place from 6 to 9 p.m. and the cost is $25 per person. The Silent Auction will conclude at 8 p.m.

Don’t let the kids miss the opportunity to meet Santa Claus during a special appearance from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, December 7. Hotline volunteers will be serving homemade cookies and punch at the party. Complimentary souvenir photos will be provided. Also on December 7, the black-tie Gala Holiday Social will be held at 6:30 p.m. with a Benefit Auction at 8 p.m. Tickets for each event are $50.

Tree themes over the years

Themes are a big deal during the Festival of Trees and creative ones make the trees big sellers. Live and artificial trees are adorned with everything from gift certificates to toys and nutcrackers.

Organizers recall themed trees such as the 12 Days of Christmas with a gift for each day. One tree had a tailgate party theme and came complete with an outdoor grill, snacks and game tickets. Bryant remembers years when everyone waited to see how local artist Majid Elbers would decorate her tree. “Each year she would use oriental rugs to make purses and accessory items. She’d save her rosebuds, dried flowers and herbs from her garden and decorate the tree with them. It was an annual favorite. It was beautiful.”

So what tree is everyone waiting to see this year? The tree from Lucky 12 Tavern in Nags Head. Every year, the restaurant comes up with different, exciting themes, Bryant said. One year, the tree featured a hand-built beach cruiser and tickets to a Pittsburgh Steelers game. Another year, it was decorated with skateboards made by a champion skateboarder. “[Lucky 12 Tavern] comes up with some really incredible trees,” Bryant said.

So whether you want to decorate and donate a tree, sponsor an event, donate to an auction or shop at the Holiday Bazaar, the Festival of Trees has something for everyone in the community.

Contact the Hotline business office at 252.473.5121 for more information. ♦

Photos courtesy Outer Banks Festival of Trees and Michelle Wagner.

Michelle Wagner is the editor at Three Dog Ink and has been living and writing on the Outer Banks for more than 15 years. Contact Michelle

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