Festival Of Trees Volunteers
This year, we're spotlighting those behind-the-scenes magical elves that turn a plain room into a winter wonderland; those tireless hands who think in red, green and gold glitter 12 months a year; the people who come in, expecting nothing, and leave loaded with smiles and holiday cheer just from helping people find their festive place and raising money for a very, very worthy cause.
Because elves usually work anonymously, we've asked them for their "code name" so you can pick them out at this year's festival, which is set for Saturday, Nov. 15, at the Hyatt Valencia.
The Elf Himself, Gary Condie, is the chief mischief maker among the “Behind The Trees” gang.
“We heard about the festival from some friends and checked it out, then we went to FOT bootcamp,” he said. “The one thing we learned was that it was a great fundraising opportunity.”
Convincing the Club to do the festival wasn’t very hard and Himself enjoys every year, with the variety of beautifully decorated trees.
“Some of them are amazing works of art,” he said. “The first year, I remember people saying ‘I didn’t know you could do so much with a tree. I’ve never seen this before!’
“The first year, people didn’t know what it was, but the curiosity factor worked,” he added. “I remember that night, 15 minutes before the doors were to open, I’ll never forget thinking ‘will it be a bust or a success?’ We got the Chamber to move a mixer for us and decorators and other volunteers worked for months, but we had no idea if people would come.
“Then we opened the door and 20 minutes later, we were elbow to elbow,” he said, beaming. “It was surreal. We knew we had a winner.”
He loves the fact that everybody likes to get involved with the Festival on different levels. Some volunteer, some are sponsors, some come to buy a tree or shop the boutique, but they always come back.
“There are a lot of people who get involved in festival that don’t work anything else because of the magic of the event,” he said. “People jump out of their chair at the opportunity because it gives them such a good feeling.”
Himself should be proud of his timing, too. He and Myrna (Elf Sewsalot) brought the Festival to Santa Clarita the same year that the Club opened its expanded Sierra Vista facility, doubling the club’s budget.
“We needed a second fundraiser,” he said. “We were desperate.”
But now, he’s just one of the smiling elves looking forward to Nov. 15.
Raising holiday spirits, making money for a great cause and seeing the incredible creativity of designers are just a few of the reasons Elf Snowprints jumped onto the Festival of Trees sleigh when it first landed in Santa Clarita. She even collects annual photos with another elf to preserve the good time memories.
“Festival is about giving,” Snowprint said “The Club benefits the community in so many ways and it's a great way for the community give back by supporting the Festival. I get a warm fuzzy feeling that I’m contributing something positive.”
Snowprint is probably one of the most dedicated volunteers at the Club, working year-round to help them with fundraisers, but this is the only one where she gets to wear her Santa hat – with the tag “Barbara Morris” on it.
Elf “Chili” loves the wreaths and gingerbread houses because they bring to mind her first grade teacher’s greeting.
“I had a teacher who told the class in her very thick Brooklyn accent, "I houpe you ouul have a Wrath awn youah dooah." It seemed like she was saying 'A pox on your house', it took me years to understand that she meant ‘I hope you all have a Wreath on your door!’
Chili’s been a designer/decorator for the Festival in the past and remembers the first time she put together a tree, stepping back to gaze at her creation for Circle of Hope and “being amazed at just how magical it looked in the middle of the huge warehouse.”
She’s really happy that the community gets to come visit the trees this year and is looking forward to seeing everyone dressed up in their holiday finery for the Magic of the Lights gala!
When she’s not working “behind the trees,” Chili is better known as Jordana Capra.
“Christmas Belle” started her elf career the very first year of the festival five years ago.
“I was intrigued and wanted to design a tree right away,” she said. “I am an artist and enjoy tremendously the opportunity to design and decorate at Christmas time. The festival makes it a very worthwhile endeavor.”
Helping with the festival gives Christmas Belle a warm feeling of helping the kids in our valley.
“Our children need to be guided in the right direction and opportunities supplied by the club helps to do this,” she said, pondering another magical tree design. Christmas Belle also admitted that she’s a shopper and the Festival gives her a good reason to be creative and “treasure hunt” all year round.
“It celebrates Christmas, the most important time of the year,” she said, smiling. “This is a great opportunity to give creative individuals the chance to add their input and experience and volunteer spirit to the community to benefit so many children. It gives us a great feeling of contributing with satisfaction to a worthwhile cause.”
In a flash of evergreen and ribbons, we peeked at her nametag. Seems that CB is really Leabele McLeod!
A special elf who claims to dangerous around glass ornaments remembers the very first year of Festival of Trees, when the warmth – and power – at the Hyatt weren’t part of the picture.
“It’s midnight, and we’re freezing cold in a big empty warehouse and we have to decorate the trees by the headlights of our cars because the electricity has not been turned on yet. And I’m thinking ‘there’s no way we are going to pull this thing off.’ And then little by little, I see the beauty of the trees taking shape and I begin to get excited – yes, we are going to do it!”
Oopsie Elf gets warm all over when she thinks about the Festival and how it brings together friends, family and the true spirit of giving.
“I get pure joy out of volunteering at the festival,” she said. “I love Myrna and Gary Condie and believe in their vision of what Festival of Trees could be for our community. All hail to the amazing volunteers who are dedicated to making this event successful!”
All kidding aside, Oopsie promises to be really careful around the glass ornaments this year and might even use her real name – Kathy Keysor Smith!