At Christmastime in Williamsport, The Salvation Army is known for not only red kettles and bell ringing, but also its annual Festival of Trees display and auction at the Lycoming Mall. Now in its 20th year, The Salvation Army’s Festival of Trees has become a beloved community tradition—and a significant fundraiser to help those in need in our community.
Here’s how the event works: each year local businesses or organizations sponsor trees. Sponsorship involves providing tree decorations, plus an incentive package valued at $200 or more. Many sponsors use their creativity to come up with a decorating theme for their tree, with some even carrying the theme through their incentives. The trees are on display for three weeks. Then on the night of the public auction, lucky bidders win both the fully decorated trees as well as the accompanying incentive packages. This year there are 39 sponsored trees up for grabs.
“We’re expecting a good crowd to turn out for our 20th Festival of Trees auction,” said Michael T. Roan, event auctioneer and one of the founding members of the Festival of Trees planning committee. “This event has developed a loyal following. There are quite a few people who come out to bid on the trees year after year,” explained Roan, “and new bidders are always welcome,” he added.
This year’s auction is set for Friday, December 9 at 7:00 p.m., just off Center Court (near Burlington Coat Factory) in the Lycoming Mall. Bidder registration will begin around 6:00 p.m., so plan to come early, take a last look at the trees before placing your bids, and enjoy all the festivities. Pat Mraz, who retired a couple of years ago from Backyard Broadcasting, is another Festival of Trees founding committee member and 20-year volunteer for this event. Retire or not, Pat is looking forward to staffing the bidder registration table as usual that evening, ready to greet one and all with holiday cheer and a smile.
“Many people look forward to this event year after year, even if they don’t participate in the auction,” noted Deanna Miller, General Manager for the Lycoming Mall. Both Deanna and her husband Alan, who manages mall maintenance and security, are also founding members of the Festival of Trees committee. Parents and grandparents love to bring their little ones to see the Festival of Trees display, according to the Millers. “Visiting this little winter wonderland remains a nostalgic Christmas tradition enjoyed by local families, mall-walking senior citizens, and college kids who come back home for the holidays.”
Whenever visiting the tree display at the mall, the public is encouraged to vote for their favorite tree ($1 = 1 vote) at the adjacent voting station. Some tree sponsors are also collecting votes elsewhere—look for countertop voting boxes in their offices or storefronts to cast your vote! The sponsor whose tree gets the most votes (from all sources) will receive the “People’s Choice” award. The Salvation Army will also recognize the tree/sponsor that raises the most money overall (including auction proceeds) with the “Best of the Festival” award.
Each year Alan and Deanna Miller put a lot of behind-the-scenes effort into making sure the overall Festival of Trees event is a success. They also invest in its success personally, sponsoring and decorating a spectacular tree each year—this year’s with a gingerbread theme. Deanna enjoys decorating the tree, but more importantly, she and Alan know that all the monies raised go to a great cause.
“The Festival of Trees supports vital programs and services for our neighbors in physical and spiritual need not just at Christmastime but all year-round,” said Major Sheryl Hershey, Corps Officer/Pastor of The Salvation Army in Williamsport. “While The Salvation Army always makes an extra effort to make sure local families have food on the table and toys under the tree during the holidays, we’re here to help in all seasons, ” Hershey emphasized.
Throughout the year, the Williamsport Corps operates a food pantry and hygiene item closet, offers clothing and furniture vouchers to those impacted by an emergency or disaster, and provides rent and utility assistance (grant-dependent), backpacks and school supplies, youth and music programs, summer camps, a Golden Agers program, women’s ministries, the Red Shield Community Garden, a thrift store, weekly Sunday school and worship services, and more. Since its inception, the Festival of Trees has generated approximately $350,000 to keep these community programs in operation.
The results of The Salvation Army’s holiday fundraising have a big influence on the extent to which they can help our local community in the coming year. To jump start its holiday fundraising, on November 16 The Salvation Army once again hosted its Red Kettle Kick-Off Breakfast, after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. This year’s breakfast was held in memory of the late Elizabeth “Bettie” Bennett, beloved mother of Kent Bennett, Chair of The Salvation Army’s Advisory Board. Thanks to the incredible generosity of sponsors and attendees, the breakfast raised more than $35,000 to support The Salvation Army’s array of local community services. “My mother was mission-minded and passionate about helping others,” reminisced Bennett, “so the results of the breakfast are a wonderful tribute to her legacy.”
So, if you missed the breakfast or if that event wasn’t your cup of tea, The Salvation Army hopes you’ll come out and join them at the Festival of Trees. This year’s auction promises to have something for everyone. Want a monopoly-themed Christmas tree, or a hunting & fishing tree, or a tree covered in flowers, decorated by a professional florist? Is there anyone on your Christmas list who would like a $200 gift card for antiquing, a getaway to Belhurst Castle, a $500 Walmart gift card, or $1,500 in free landscaping services? If so, mark your calendars: Friday, December 9, 7 p.m. (bidder registration at 6 p.m.). This year’s Festival of Trees is not to be missed!