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Tradition’s the star at Festival of Trees

SALISBURY — Members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority got down to work Thursday decorating a Christmas tree that will, by the end of the next week, be sitting inside a local business.

The sorority, which has been around locally for 80 years, is one of the dozens of organizations and volunteers who have decorated a tree as part of the annual Festival of Trees. The fundraiser benefits the Arc of Rowan.

The women have been decorating a tree for about five or six years, says Crystal Kelly, who is the sorority’s state communications and marketing coordinator.

The sorority sisters decorated the tree with the theme of celebrating their 80th year locally.

“It’s our way of giving back,” Kelly said.

She said contributing to the community is representative of the sorority’s four pillars — sisterhood, finer womanhood, scholarship and service.

One year, the late Elizabeth “Liz” Fields, who was a member of the sorority, heard of a family who had several children, and the sorority paid extra for a tree and donated it to the family.

“It was one of the most memorable moments,” Kelly said.

The free fundraiser supports the Arc, which helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.

Local businesses, civic organizations and individuals sponsor trees. The sponsor can either decorate the tree or request that someone else do so. After being on display for the festival, the trees are delivered to area businesses and organizations.

This year marks the 15th year. There are 52 trees on display this year.

Some people have been volunteering to decorate a tree for all 15 years.

“We have a lot of volunteers who believe in our mission and who want to help,” said Executive Director Shela Sapp.

Sapp said the festival has gone from 22 trees in the beginning to 52 now. Her goal is to one day have 60 trees.

“We couldn’t do this without F&M’s support,” she said.

The festival is held each year at the F&M Trolley Barn.

North Hills Christian School also sponsored a tree. Each year, the senior class chooses a school theme that becomes the theme for the tree.

The students came up with a theme of “Ohana” from the Disney movie “Lilo & Stitch.”

“Ohana” means family, said school volunteer coordinator Marie Shehan.

The students wanted to be inclusive, Shehan said of the theme.

The tree includes Hawaiian-inspired flowers and sayings.

This is the second year the school has sponsored and decorated a tree.

“It’s a good benefit for the Arc,” said Jennifer Johnson, head of the Parent-Teacher Fellowship.

Malissa Giannetti, a Catawba College senior, decorated a tree for the Helen Foil Beard Women’s Society. The tree was sponsored by Catawba President Brien Lewis. Since the society’s colors are pink and silver, Giannetti said the theme she and other students came up with was “Pretty Pink.”

“I love getting involved with the community and giving back. I think it’s an amazing thing to do,” Giannetti said.

Not only do volunteers decorate trees, but some like Scott Rhodes make sure everyone has snacks and lunch while they decorate.

“I come early and the trees are bare, and you think, ‘How are they going to be decorated?’ It’s so exciting to see the planning, the creativity and the fun they have,” she said.

The preview party for sponsors will be from 5 to 7 p.m. today. The festival is open to the public from 7 to 9 p.m. today and will continue from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. sunday

On Saturday and Sunday beginning at 2 p.m., local resident Malynda Peeler will read a Christmas story. Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus will make an appearance around 2:30 p.m.

The main sponsors of the festival are Food Lion, Sara Lee, and F&M Bank.

The Arc of Rowan is a Rowan County United Way member agency.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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