Eighty businesses and groups gathered at Kokomo Town Center Mall Sunday afternoon to decorate Christmas trees for the 2013 We Care Trim-A-Tree Festival which kicks off today.
The former Phar-Mor store on the west side of the center was packed with people, Christmas lights, decorations and ornaments as the groups tried to put together the most eye-catching display to fetch the highest bid during the annual auction Nov. 17.
For the next two weeks, people can also vote for their favorite decorations by tossing money into buckets placed in front of each tree. Whichever receives the most donations wins the People’s Choice Award.
All the money goes towards We Care, a local non-profit fundraising group that supports local charity work.
“Today’s going very well,” said festival coordinator Mariesa Skogland. “People are coming in, they’re very excited, they listened to the announcements and off they go.”
One of those groups heading off to decorate their tree was Taylor Southeast Baseball.
Bill Brubaker, the group’s treasurer, said they’re the first little league team to participate in the festival, which has now been going on for 21 years.
“The girls on the baseball board were all talking and saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to get a We Care tree and try to help?’ We all said sure,” he said.
The tree sported Taylor’s colors — red, black and silver — as well as a subtle baseball theme. Brubaker said it also honors Ryan Beining, who played on the team before doctors found a cancerous tumor on his brain last year.
The school renamed one of its baseball diamonds “Ryan’s Field” last month to show support for the Taylor Elementary School second-grader after they decided to participate in the Trim-A-Tree Festival.
“We thought, ‘We’re doing this, but we have someone right here on our team who needs help, so why don’t we do something for him,” Brubaker said.
Skogland said that’s one of the great things about the festival – it gives organizations that may not be able to have their own charity outreach a chance to support a good cause.
“This gives businesses and groups an opportunity to come out and support We Care that maybe don’t have the ability to do an event themselves,” she said. “They’re able to come out and raise money. It’s also two weeks of advertisement for them, and it’s amazing how much these groups pay to put together their trees. There’s a lot of time, a lot of thought, a lot of shopping and a lot of donations that go into them.”
Adria Snoddy, director of pediatric therapy at Bona Vista, said their tree isn’t just a way to raise money for We Care, but also a way to raise awareness for Bona Vista’s new event center called Imagine That!
Although the non-profit has decorated a tree for more than 15 years, she said the tree this year will have an “Imagine That!” theme. Gifts below the tree will represent the seven different rooms at the event center, like the NASCAR and Lego room.
“The community has received this event so well,” Snoddy said. “It’s nice we’re able to showcase one our programs through our tree theme.”
The Trim-A-Tree Festival and auction raised over $53,000 last year for We Care, which gives money to groups like the Kokomo Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army.
Brubaker said it was amazing to see so many people Sunday coming together to help the non-profit. He said it was also pretty fun decorating the tree.
“This brings a lot of people together for a good cause,” he said. “It sounds kind of hokey, but it’s true. Everybody knows what We Care means to this community.”
People can view the trees and also shop at the We Care store 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and noon to 6 p.m., Nov. 11.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.