Festival of Trees: 25 years of celebrating potential

— Created November 22, 2023 by Kathy Reed

By Kathy Reed

It’s the time of year when folks like to get their holiday groove on, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County is offering several options for doing just that, all while supporting a worthy cause.

It’s time for the 25th anniversary of Festival of Trees, a fundraising event for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County at which lavishly decorated trees are put up for auction. This year’s gala will be held Friday, Dec. 1. Find tickets and information at bbbsislandcounty.org/fot.

The 25th anniversary of the Festival of Trees gala and live charity auction will be held at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge Friday, Dec. 1 from 5 to 10 p.m. Cost to attend the main event is $125 per person and includes a catered dinner, cocktails, formal wear, exclusive auction items and of course, lavishly decorated trees.

The fun doesn’t stop there. The annual Teddy Bear Breakfast will be held at the Elks Lodge the following morning, Saturday, Dec. 2, with two seatings to choose from – 9 a.m. or 10:30 a.m. Cost is $5 for those ages 12 and under, and $15 for those 13 and older. Those attending are also asked to bring a new stuffed animal to be donated to children in a crisis situation by police officers and first responders. This lively event will include breakfast, entertainment, raffles and a teddy bear parade. Youth must be accompanied by a parent.

But it’s not over. Back by popular demand, those ages 21 and over are invited to party the night away at the second annual Mingle with Kringle casual cocktail party Saturday, Dec. 2 from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. Tickets are $25 per person and may be purchased in advance or at the door.  There will be cocktails and hors d’ouevres, door prizes and raffles, a silent auction, dancing, and Kris Kringle himself will be there to mingle with attendees.

Proceeds from all these festive events will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County. Tickets for all are now on sale at bbbsislandcounty.org/fot. Tickets for the Mingle with Kringle event will also be sold at the door.

“What we’re doing is really important and I believe in it,” said BBBS of Island County Executive Director, Tiffany Scribner. “It makes me more determined to serve our community and kids. The youth is our future, we’ve got to support them. We have to make sure they thrive, so our future is brighter.”

Because this is the 25th anniversary of Festival of Trees, Scribner said they have really tried to pull out all the stops to make this year’s event extra special.

“We felt like we should go big for our 25th year, so we have 14 trees,” she said. “We have seven full size trees and seven tabletop trees – which are about four feet tall. Each of the full size trees has a trip with it for accommodations at a Caribbean destination.”

Photo Courtesy of BBBS of Island County
The annual Festival of Trees will feature 14 trees this year, all decorated in a variety of different themes, like those put up for auction at last year’s gala. The Festival of Trees benefits Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County.

Scribner noted the trips will require whoever purchases them to pay for airfare and a small daily resort fee, which then makes the stay all-inclusive.

“Also, we have 25 live auction items in service of our 25th year. Gerald’s Jewelry in Oak Harbor did a custom designed pendant that is only available at Festival of Trees,” Scribner said. “They have kindly donated pieces to our auction in the past, but this is the first time they have ever done a custom-designed, one-of-a-kind piece.”

According to the description of the pendant on the organization’s website, the white gold pendant features a Montana sapphire in the center and is surrounded by eight Yogo sapphires and 20 diamonds.

Other live auction items include a limited edition print of Oak Harbor’s much-loved Kow Korner, a trip to Hilton Head, Alaska Airline tickets paired with a Napa Valley wine train tour and a year-long Seaside Spa and Salon package featuring a once-a-month massage.

“People really showed up for us in terms of donations for the auction,” said Scribner. “Our offerings this year – we’ve outdone ourselves!”

Scribner said BBBS of Island County wants to show its appreciation for all the community support it’s received over the past quarter century.

“This year we feel we want to give back, so we’ll be offering door prizes and things we don’t normally do to say ‘thank you,’’ she shared. “Plus, we’ll be honoring some folks who have been around a long time and doing things for us for a long time. There will be a couple of nods to the past, paying homage to where we started and where we are now.”

Photo Courtesy of BBBS of Island County
Festive holiday spirit will abound at the 25th annual Festival of Trees, to be held Friday, Dec. 1. The festival also includes other events like the Teddy Bear Breakfast and Mingle with Kringle. All events benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Island County.

Part of the fun of Festival of Trees for Scribner is that there is something in which all age groups can participate, such as the Teddy Bear Breakfast.

“A group of people stepped up [to sponsor it this year] and everybody came together,” she said. “JR Russell is going to be the entertainment. He did it last year and it was a huge hit. We’re really excited about where this is going.”

As noted, the organization’s Mingle with Kringle event, established last year, was another huge hit. While the Festival of Trees gala and auction is a formal event, Mingle with Kringle is a much more casual, relaxed evening that people seemed to enjoy.

“It went so well,” Scribner said. “As people were leaving, they were practically begging us to do it again. We said, ‘Okay, we’ve heard the people.’ We have some fabulous raffle prizes and we also do a costume contest with prizes for best dressed or most fabulous holiday costume. We had lots of ugly sweaters. Last year the person who won the contest was dressed as a Christmas tree. It’s such a fun night. It’s low stress for everyone. Come dressed up or wear an ugly sweater and blue jeans.”

The highlight of all these events, of course, are the decorated trees that will fill the room at the Elks Lodge, and Scribner said this year will not disappoint.

Photo Courtesy of BBBS of Island County
Organizers of Festival of Trees say they are surprised every year by the unique ideas and designs for the trees donated for the annual event, like this one from last year, entitled “Be Merry Be Jolly.” Festival of Trees is a fundraiser for Big Brothers Big Sister of Island County.

“Every year I’m shocked by what incredible designs the decorators come up with,” she said. “My background is in art and design. I have two degrees in design, so for me to say that is saying something. We have some stunners this year. We have such a range in themes, from nods to Taylor Swift and disco dancing queen to woodland elves and peacocks. There is a tree for everyone in the room.”

While the trees may be the highlight, the true stars, and ultimate winners, of Festival of Trees are Whidbey Island youth, something Scribner speaks about with passion.

“Making sure kids feel heard, to know they matter, to have someone there to give them that little bit of guidance and care, that makes a world of difference,” she shared. “All of us can look back and see someone who showed up for us at the right time, who said the right thing and changed our lives. It’s that person whose voice still rings in our heads all these years later. This program gives that to kids. We hear stories all the time about how the relationships we create last a lifetime and truly do change the course of people’s lives.

“To me, at the end of the day, it’s about making sure our kids are okay,” Scribner continued. “It’s making sure the youth in our community have the support they need. Making sure what we’re doing today provides for healthier, happier youth who get to live out their potential. We are defenders of potential. The people involved with BBBS of Island County show up for kids and make sure kids know they have potential and are able to go live that potential.”