Festival of Trees gala and auction spreads joy throughout the year

— Created November 30, 2021 by Melanie Hammons

By Melanie Hammons

It’s a tried and true adage regarding very young children and gifts. Sometimes, they enjoy playing with the paper and ribbon packaging more than the gift itself.

The 23rd annual Festival of Trees tweaks that truism just a little. In this case, the trees themselves, to be auctioned at the event, may well bring more joy than any sort of present that winds up beneath them. With proceeds benefitting Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County, kids are recipients of the best gifts of all, the ones money can’t buy, says Tiffany Scribner, BBBSIC executive director.

“The Festival of Trees is our signature fundraiser and a much-anticipated event,” said Scribner. “The proceeds offset the expenses of a great program that pairs kids with caring adult mentors. It pays big dividends in a young person’s life, when they have someone they can be real with who also offers benefits of mentorship and life experience.”

These trees are far from being unadorned, Scribner said. Each one arrives beautifully decorated for the event by local creative folks. “They (the volunteers) are all professional at this point, having done this for several years running. Each tree displays an individual, unique flair.”

The 2021 auction will be a hybrid event, according to Scribner, as the organization, like others, navigates pandemic protocols. But a few special touches promise to make even a livestreamed event of this kind something not to miss.

“The community is invited to purchase ‘celebration boxes’ stocked with wine, wine glasses, decorative placemats and much more,” said Scribner. “It’s a great way to celebrate the event in style, as you view it from the comfort of your own home.”

A gala event wouldn’t be complete without a delicious dinner to pair with the celebration boxes. The meals offered for that are take-away box dinners catered by Zanini’s Deli. Entrees include the choice of several different options, including vegetarian fare.

Meals and celebration boxes may be either delivered or picked up and meal orders must be placed by Monday, Nov. 29. The online portion of the auction takes place Nov. 25 through Dec. 6. Friday, Dec. 3 is the live auction streaming. The BBBSIC website offers full details. (bbbsislandcounty.org)

A tantalizing, and diverse selection of gifts will be available on the auction block, said Scribner. These range from roundtrip airline tickets for two on Alaska Airlines, to wine-tasting events, to a whale watching cruise and more.

 And speaking of wine and good food, consider a bid for two couples to travel to the Bordeaux region of France, or a shot at a catered dinner for 10 people. Both of these will be featured at the live auction. The high value of such selections may just lead the lucky winner(s) to conclude they come away from the auction the richer for it.

Pictures and videos of the auction trees will be available online, Scribner said, giving prospective bidders the opportunity to view them up close and personal, albeit virtually.

“We regret that because of the continuing pandemic, we won’t be having a community-wide viewing of the trees. That would ordinarily take place on Community Day, the day following the live auction,” said Scribner. That’s why we wanted to offer the celebration boxes and take-away box dinner options to the community.  At least that way, they can share the best the gala has to offer while enjoying wine and good food with friends and family.”

Although the community-wide live viewing will have to wait for another year, Scribner said they would make available to bidders only, the chance to do a walk through the trees at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. This walk through would be by appointment only, she stressed.

Whether virtual or live, the timing of the Festival of Trees Gala and Auction could not be more welcome for the organization’s purposes, said Scribner. She said they have high hopes for its success.

“We are so grateful and hopeful about our supportive community here, in all that we do,” she said. “Last year, 2020, our fundraising took a 45 percent hit because of the pandemic. I know that many other organizations took hits as well.”

And yet the needs, she said, are as great, if not greater, than before. Much of that has to do with the lasting detrimental effects of the pandemic on mental health.

“Kids are more isolated than ever before. Schools shut for nearly a year, if not longer, and they experienced a real downside to that. In fact, I’ve never observed the high rates of depression in young people that I’ve seen this past year. We see such an uplift when they are paired with an adult mentor.”

The “littles” who participate in BBBSIC range in age from 6 to 16. “Bigs” don’t need any special degrees or job skills, just a desire to impact a young person in a positive way. Island County, and specifically Oak Harbor as a military community, means statistically there are even more youngsters who long for the sort of caring adult companionship they offer, said Scribner. It helps greatly that the military community itself is very supportive in return, she said.

“At least 40 percent of our ‘littles’ come from military homes. Countering that, I’m proud to tell you the Navy is one of our biggest supporters as far as volunteers go. Something close to 35 percent of our ‘bigs’ come from the Navy. They tend to be singles or a family without children of their own,” she said.

Scribner’s own experiences as an adolescent reinforces her belief the mission of Big Brothers Big Sisters produces a lasting positive influence in kids’ lives.

“I wasn’t in any sort of Big Sister-type program growing up. But I did have very specific people in my life who encouraged me and served as mentors. My older brother, and some of my cousins and aunts served as those positive role models that I and many others of that age group yearn for,” she said.

The 23rd annual Festival of Trees Gala and Auction unites the beauty of these decorated trees with the generous spirit of the season. Tied together with the proceeds of a yearly auction that helps BBBSIC continue the work, the event could well represent the best present many young people receive all year. Visit bbbsislandcounty.org for information on Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County as well as information on this year’s Festival of Trees. Or call 360-279-0644.