Smithfield Herald

The Festival of Trees could end after this year

Volunteers Brian and Carol Price admire a Christmas tree at the Festival of Trees in the Johnston Medical Mall in Smithfield on Dec. 5, the opening day of the festival.
Volunteers Brian and Carol Price admire a Christmas tree at the Festival of Trees in the Johnston Medical Mall in Smithfield on Dec. 5, the opening day of the festival.

This year’s Festival of Trees could be the last.

The event marked its 10th anniversay with this month’s display of Christmas trees, but organizers need more volunteers to continue the festival going forward.

For the past decade, with the help of sponsors, decorators and volunteers, Keep Johnston County Beautiful has put up around 50 Christmas trees in the Johnston Medical Mall. Church choirs, school groups and others perform music.

After the festival closes, Keep Johnston Beautiful donates the trees to needy families and community groups. This year’s festival was Dec. 5-14.

The event is Keep Johnston Beautiful’s only fundraiser. But the festival takes considerable effort, especially to set up and take down the trees, said Sherry Pinney-Phillips, sponsorship chairwoman. “We probably need a good dozen to 20 more volunteers,” she said.

This year, the festival had just four volunteers to help set up, clean floors, greet people, sell raffle tickets and introduce musical groups. Only six organizations advertised; Pinney-Phillips would like to see around 10 more. Forty-eight groups sponsored trees, but the Medical Mall can hold up to 50.

“It’s disappointing because it’s a beautiful event,” Pinney-Phillips said. “It’s a great way to kick off the Christmas season, and it’s a nice way for the kids to come out and see Christmas trees and bring joy, and there’s just not a lot of interest in that.”

Sarah Ann Sasser, the festival’s treasurer, started the event a decade ago. She said Keep Johnston Beautiful tried to make this year special because of the 10th anniversary. School groups and retirement communities come to see the trees. Sasser said teachers have told her, “Some of these children have never seen a Christmas tree before.”

“It does your heart good when you see (people) going in and out,” Sasser said. “It sort of gets you ready for Christmas. That’s what people say when they go.”

The organizers have yet to decide whether they will stage the event again next year. Last year, after expenses, the event raised about $4,000 for Keep Johnston County Beautiful, Sasser said. The nonprofit aims to improve and protect the county’s natural and historic resources and is currently working on a survey of Johnston’s historical architecture. Members often focus on beautification and have planted flowers, adopted highways and added recycling bins to public areas.

Sponsoring a tree costs $210, which includes the cost of buying the tree. Sponsors then decorate the tree or invite others to decorate it for them.

Kim Langdon, who co-owns Langdon Farms Boarding near Four Oaks, decorated a tree with her family with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation as its theme. The tree held photos from the “Walk to Cure Diabetes” her family took part in, along with sneakers and a blue foam finger at the top.

“We’re just trying to raise awareness for type one diabetes and the walk so we can raise more money and hopefully find a cure,” Langdon said.

“It’s just beautiful,” she said of the fesival. “It gets you in the Christmas spirit.”

Heather Ball of Benson owns her own house-design company and called her tree “Make Your Dreams a Reality.” She used blueprints to wrap presents and make paper snowflakes.

Ball said she was creative as a child and wanted to work with her hands designing houses. “So that was my dream, and I chose that dream and made it a reality,” she said.

Ball said she hoped her decorations would inspire others. “So I want everybody who has a dream of a house and white picket fence to have that reality too,” she said.

Rose and Richard Hammond of Selma added candy canes to their tree and encouraged visitors to take a candy cane with them. Rose Hammond said she and her husband have been decorating a tree since the event started.

“It doesn’t have to get bigger,” she said. “It just gets better.”