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Festival of Trees brings holiday joy to nonprofits, visitors
by Everett Catts
December 04, 2013 04:19 PM | 1411 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Special / Eva Goss / From left, Carol Ney and Dolores Walrod, both of the Cobb Library Foundation, show off their tree’s theme this year, ‘The Importance of Letters.’
Special / Eva Goss / From left, Carol Ney and Dolores Walrod, both of the Cobb Library Foundation, show off their tree’s theme this year, ‘The Importance of Letters.’
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Two years after Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hosted its last annual Festival of Trees fundraiser in 2008, a new event with the same title arrived on the scene.

The Cobb Galleria Festival of Trees, a benefit for 38 metro Atlanta nonprofits hosted by the Embassy Suites Atlanta Galleria hotel near Vinings, is celebrating its fourth year. It opened Nov. 18 and closes Jan. 3.

Dale Gustafson, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing and the festival’s founder, said the event was started partly to help fill the void left by the festival benefitting Children’s.

“Embassy Suites as a brand of Hilton is very service minded in the communities we operate in. We have a service motto: ‘Gracious, engaging and caring, making a difference in the lives of others in ways both big and small,’” he said. “When my general manger interviewed me, he asked me what I had done as far as community work as concerned at past hotels. I told him about the Festival of Trees at the Marriott hotel in Richmond, Va., where I worked.

“We did it there for three or four years and when I left, it ended. The old Atlanta Festival of Trees was around for [about] 30 years. We were hoping this will grow big enough to eventually replace that. But it’s different in that it benefits as many organizations that wish to participate.”

The Cobb festival has grown from raising $14,000 its first year to more than $29,000 in each of the last two, with 25, 30 and 32 nonprofits involved in 2010 through 2012. Gustafson said this year’s fundraising goal is $40,000.

Located inside the hotel’s atrium, the festival is open 24/7. Admission and parking are free and each visitor will receive one free cup of hot chocolate, coffee or water. Each nonprofit in the festival has a tree on display with a box where visitors can safely make donations or “votes” for the best tree (one dollar equals one vote). The charity with the most donations is declared the winner and the hotel will give that nonprofit an additional $1,000.

Representatives of the participating nonprofits interviewed by the Neighbor said the festival not only serves as a fundraiser for their organization but also raises awareness of them.

“It’s unique in that there are other organizations doing similar things,” said Ron Deering, a volunteer with Homeless Pets Foundation, a Marietta-based nonprofit that will move to Dallas, Ga., this weekend. “We actually have a tree at the Marietta Museum [of History]. At the Embassy Suites, there is a wide spectrum of folks who come through here who are sympathetic to homeless pets and love pets in general. We see people here who we would never see otherwise. We have the possibility of collecting donations from those folks.”

Dolores Walrod, a volunteer with the Cobb Library Foundation through its Friends of the Library group, echoed those sentiments.

“It is a good way to get our message out because we have our brochures here and we have the tree here that illustrates our message about literacy,” she said. “We have letters on the tree and there are some words spelled out on the tree. You can spend a while looking at it.”

“The festival is just lovely. It’s a good way for all the different charities to be represented. They all have a message and have beautiful trees. They are quite an addition to the area. Embassy Suites has done a wonderful job promoting the event through [its] website and through social media.”

Carol Ney, the foundation’s vice president, said the nonprofit got involved as a way to reach out to the community.

“This was a wonderful way to do that,” she said. “It’s a fun and festive way to exemplify our greater good to the Cobb community. … It’s just a beautiful event. The money we make here just an added bonus to everything we do.”

Ditto for Crystal Weeks, administrate assistant with the Marietta-based SafePath Children’s Advocacy Center.

“We chose to participate because it’s a fun, festive opportunity to create awareness about our mission,” she said. “Our mission is to create a community free of child abuse. There have been cases of child abuse in recent news articles and headlines. It allows us to create awareness. There are several other organizations here. It’s a great way to begin the conversion with your children on safety. We have eight rules for safety. Protecting children is an adult’s job, but our safety routes are on our tree and help children learn more.

“I just want to say how thankful we are to be involved. It’s always something we look forward to. The Belk at Town Center [mall] helped sponsor our tree. They have done this since we began. We just hope to bring the community in, in a fun way.”

Gustafson said he is seeking a corporate sponsor to “take [the festival] to the next level.” Though the hotel plans to host the event in the future, its atrium cannot fit anymore charities’ trees than the 38 now on display. In the future the event may move to the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre or the Cobb Galleria Centre, both nearby, he said.

If you go:

o What: fourth annual Cobb Galleria Festival of Trees

o Benefits: 38 metro Atlanta nonprofits

o When: today through Jan. 3

o Where: Embassy Suites Atlanta Galleria hotel, 2815 Akers Mill Road, near Vinings

o Cost: free

o Information: http://bit.ly/V8Plmw or www.facebook.com/CobbGalleriaFestivalOfTrees; for nonprofits

interested in participating next year or for sponsorship info, contact Dale Gustafson at (770) 984-9300 or dale.gustafson@hilton.com.
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