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Festival of Trees
November 27, 2018 @ 8:00 am - December 20, 2018 @ 5:00 pm
Riley’s Army has a tree sponsored by Nino’s at the front entrance. You may find many of our warrior’s names on the balls on the tree. We also have pictures of our supporters and volunteers adorning the tree. The Festival of Trees continues through Dec. 20 at the Greenville Convention Center, 303 S.W. Greenville Blvd. The display of about 100 themed trees will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. There is no admission charge.
What is the Festival of Trees? Story from the Daily Reflector below:
Volunteers spent days decorating Greenville Convention Center with some 75 trees in time for the opening of the Festival of Trees. For the annual event, halls around the Convention Center are adorned with dozens of trees with themes ranging from fanciful to nostalgic.
The festival, which began in 1995, is now the largest fundraiser of the year for Family Support Network, a nonprofit organization that provides emotional support and resource information for families who have a child with a disability or chronic illness or those who experience premature birth or the death of a child.
“It’s becoming something that people are actually anticipating,” Executive Director Brenda Boberg said. “They used to bring their children and now they’re bringing their grandkids. So it’s really neat to see the family traditions, how people come through year after year.”
Some are looking for Christmas decorating ideas. For others, a walk-through is the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit.
The festival, which began with about a dozen trees, has spread out to cover so much of the Convention Center that its hallways are given festive names to help visitors navigate. Trees, sponsored for $200-$500 each by businesses, agencies and individuals, are given “addresses.”
“A few years ago when we had so many halls, everybody (said) ‘How do we identify where the trees are?’” Boberg said. “We came up with the idea of let’s name the halls. So we have Stocking-Stuffer Lane, Tinsel Turnpike, Frosty Freeway … Santa Circle.”
The tree at 201 Elf Expressway is one Boberg knows well. Decorated with white angels, it is in memory of her daughter, Angel, who died in 2008 after a nine-year battle with cancer.
“People see these trees and think, ‘Gee, these are pretty trees; these are nice trees,’” Boberg said. “But when you look and you go through and you tour and you get the story behind the tree, then it starts becoming the life story of so many families are represented here.”
There are trees sponsored by doctors in honor of the children they serve. There are trees decorated by children in special needs classrooms.
A 12-foot-tall tree near the Convention Center entrance represents Riley’s Army, an organization aimed at providing support to children with cancer and their families in Eastern North Carolina.
“Each ball represents a child they’re working with,” said Lynne Siegel, president of the local Family Support Network board of directors. “That many children are suffering cancer. That tree tears me up every time I look at it because there are way too many balls on it.”
A tree decorated with a nautical theme stands in memory of former Family Support Network board member Robbie Marlowe.
“Anything on here is about him and his family,” Boberg said. “He was a nurse. He was a scuba diver. He loved the beach. He loved to fish.”
Lea Davis sponsored a tree in memory of her husband, Bernie, who died last year. Because of her husband’s love of nature, the tree features more than three dozen animals — from an armadillo to a zebra — and provides a “scavenger hunt” card for visitors to complete.
A tree sponsored by Tom and Loretta Feller is decorated with butterflies and stars in memory of their daughter, Erin Starr, and a granddaughter, Caroline, who was stillborn.
“It’s really neat when you look at these trees and you know the history and you know why people are doing it,” Boberg said. “They’re not just tax breaks. This is their lives. This is their story.”
Some who have been served by Family Support Network will share their stories Friday at “Ring in the Holidays,” a preview event that will include an auction. Many families that the network serves continue as volunteers or go on to serve on FSN’s board.
“Fifty percent of our board members are the parent or the grandparent of a child with a disability,” Boberg said. “The others that are involved are involved for various reasons. Some of them just because they’ve met someone down the road.
“People do these trees for so many reasons,” she said. “It’s powerful. It’s more than the magic of Christmas. It’s all about the lives that are changed.”