Annual Festival Of Trees goes digital

— Created December 2, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Alec Brown

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County is putting on its 22nd annual Festival of Trees, but in an entirely different format this year.

The traditional dinner and live auction of decorated trees and wreaths will move online and will begin at 6:30 p.m. Friday. The silent auction featuring local items is currently underway and is open for bids through noon Monday, Dec. 7.

The annual character breakfast and community viewing, however, will not happen this year due to the pandemic.

To help add to the festive flavor of the at-home festivities, BBBSIC is also selling celebration boxes. These boxes are full of goodies such as a commemorative ornament, red or white wine, glasses, napkins, napkin rings, table decor, masks, shot glasses, and more.

“I want to make sure that you don’t miss out on our 22nd Annual Festival of Trees Virtual Gala,” says BBBSIC executive director Tiffany Scribner. “As you know, things are different this year, but we’re doing our best to raise money to help the community and our young people. “

It’s the story of the year—nothing went without difficulty this time around. The Festival of Trees has happened the same way for over 20 years, and this is the first time it’s going online.

“Traditionally, Festival of Trees is a weekend-long event,” Scribner stated. “We have a Friday night gala, which will usually be held at the Elks Lodge at Oak Harbor…200 of our closest friends and supporters would be at the Elks Lodge in their ball gowns and tuxes, dressed to the nines, ready to have a multi-course dinner served by Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, accompanied by a silent auction and a very large live auction, which would include the highly decorated, beautiful, really original, creative, exciting Christmas trees that have been decorated by volunteers, many of whom are professionals.

“We would all gather, and at some point do a presentation about what BBBSIC is all about, whose lives we’ve touched, what our work has been this past year, and what that means to our community and why it’s so important to all of us,” she continued. “The night is marked by a huge amount of giving.”

The morning after the Festival of Trees is usually the Teddy Bear Breakfast. This event let attendees bring their children to the Elks Lodge for food and a parade, which included teddy bears, Santa Claus, and other characters. Community Day came after the breakfast, offering people who might not have attended either of the previous events a chance to look at the trees. Last but not least, on Sunday, the organization took the trees that had been auctioned and set them up in people’s houses. None of that is happening this year, thanks to COVID-19.

“People look forward to it every year,” Scribner stated. “This year, of course, everything is different. We’ve tried to take the festival and turn it into something that can still be a celebration, that can still be fun and can still connect people in our community and bring them together.”

Scribner said her heart goes out to those who won’t be able to experience the live event this year.

“Not being able to do Teddy Bear Breakfast breaks my heart because of the families who look forward to it, and the kids that get to experience a really fun festival holiday, and all the fun that they have there,” she said. “I was lucky enough to go last year and see how much fun they were having.”

Although much of the traditional event is canceled, she has noticed the unique opportunities the online format brings.

“Anyone can register for online bidding,” she mentioned. “It’s totally free this year, which is really exciting. Anyone can be involved in the event. I’m very thankful for it.”

One of the most difficult things to change was Community Day, which was canceled in November to comply with new state orders, Scribner said.

“We were hoping to be able to do a version of Community Day at the Elks Lodge so people could come to see the trees, but unfortunately with the new stay home orders and new changes in the governor’s plans for the state, we’ve had to cancel that,” she said. “As much as it hurts my heart, I also totally understand that protecting our community and people who are vulnerable is really important. I really salute and understand the value of that. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was an important one to make.”

In addition to being a fun holiday event, this fundraiser is, as Scribner mentioned, critically important to the organization.

“This fundraiser is about 60 percent of our annual operating fund,” she said. “So the money we bring in goes directly to keep this organization matching kids. This is not a special fund. We’re not taking money to build a building, not raising money to do a special event or a particular thing—this is money that goes into the heartbeat of our organization and makes us really able to do the things we do to make sure the kids in our program are with appropriate, safe volunteers, and continues to allow us to support the matches we’ve already made and to make new matches. This is, quite literally, allowing us to continue helping children.”

This fundraiser comes at a time when both the average online fundraiser is reporting losses and a time when they need more volunteers and resources than ever.

“I’m sure our fundraising will be impacted this year,” Scribner said. “Most organizations that are doing online fundraisers this year are posting a 50 percent loss over last year. It would be incredibly unrealistic of me to think we’re going to make the same amount of money this year. It’s just not reality. I wish it was, but it’s not. 

“We’ve seen a huge downturn in the number of volunteers who are showing their interest and signing up for our program,” she continued. “I understand there’s a lot of the fear in the world right now about all the uncertainty, but the kids who are on our waitlist—of which there are about 50—they need somebody to be their rock. They need somebody to be consistent and available, and someone who isn’t necessarily mom or dad. Someone outside of their home they can talk to, be real with, learn from, and grow with.”

Despite the challenges, Scribner is reassured by the organization’s continued success.

“I think one of the most amazing things about our program is how often the Bigs tell us about how much their Littles have helped them to grow,” she stated. “What a cool thing. People come in thinking they’re just going to help someone else out, and in turn this person they were there to support has made them a better person.

“We’ve continued our program, and almost 100 percent of our school-based matches continue to meet, which I think is just incredible,” Scribner continued. “We’ve been able to maintain those matches meeting online instead of in-person. Our Coupeville school-based program is currently our most robust system, and has really done an amazing job during all of this. They just keep meeting them, and we were able to make some new matches.”

In the end, Scribner hopes this event will bring joy to a stressful year.

“The support of this community is just incredible,” she stated. “In a very heartfelt way, I’m thankful every day that I get the honor of working for this organization, and hopefully improving the lives of kids in our community. I think it’s one of the most beautiful, wonderful things I’ve ever been able to do. When we get kids who come back and tell us their Big has made a difference in their lives, that they have fun and look forward to it and that person has been a bright spot in the midst of a really uncertain year, that makes every bit of everything else we’ve dealt with this year worth it.”

Register for the live event or the silent auction at, and preview the auction items at Registration is free. Bidding for the silent auction ends at noon Monday.