SANDY — The annual Festival of Trees fundraiser is a display of lights, color and creativity that brings in thousands of visitors and millions of dollars for Primary Children's Hospital.
But behind the scenes on delivery day following the end of the festival is a carefully organized and impressive effort that involves volunteer transport, meticulous attention to detail and tremendous coordination.
"We have 65 tree routes with five or six trees on each route," said Stacey Telford, a board member who helped with delivery in 2015. "The festival closes at 10:30 p.m. Saturday night and we go to work. We start at 7 a.m. Sunday with scheduled drop times from 9 a.m. on from St. George to Shelley, Idaho."
Amanda Louder has overseen the massive delivery effort for the past two years. She photographs each tree and rates the difficulty of delivery for each display and assigns members of the festival committee to travel with each tree.
Easy ones get a 1, the more complicated get between 4-5. Some trees, like the one donated by Marble Works each year, are delivered by the people who built them.
"We want buyers to get exactly what they saw on the floor," Louder said.
In order to make that happen, the decoraters set up the trees on stands prescribed by the festival committee that are designed to keep the trees stable. Each tree is reinforced with rebar and clamps, and all ornamentation is glued and wired in place.
As the trees are sold, Louder and her helpers try to group them into areas of delivery so volunteer drivers can make the fewest and most sensible trips.
The festival committee guarantees delivery of purchases the day after the festival closes or by the next day for buyers who live in southern Utah or Idaho. Usually, the buyers have paid several hundred to several thousand dollars for the trees.
Many come with elaborate arrays of pieces such as toys, quilts, stuffed animals, benches, tables, etc., that are boxed up and delivered with the tree.
One of the trees delivered in 2015 was to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as a surprise.
Jared Perry, CEO of Make-A-Wish Utah, said an anonymous donor bought the tree for the foundation, a tree decorated by Colleen Worthington in honor of her grandson who was fighting Hodgkin lymphoma. The grandson wanted to travel, so Gary and Colleen Worthington, founders of Kneaders, designed a tree with the theme: "Adventure is Out There!"
The tree was paired with a large toy airplane, and travel vouchers hung on the branches.
"It was a great surprise. We did not expect it," Perry said. "But it fit well into our mission."
Perry said a small army of people showed up with the tree to set it up and arrange the accompanying pieces of the display.
"It was intact," he said. "In fact, we still have the tree. We kept it and we'll put it up again this year. We made a place in our lobby for it."
The actual moving of the trees is fairly simple by comparison as large plastic bags are centered beneath the trees as they are set up. The bag can then be pulled up and around the trees and shrink wrapped. Telford said this method is used so the trees can be moved without breaking ornaments and lights or disturbing the ribbons and garlands.
Volunteers and board members from the festival go along with the movers to make sure the trees are set up again exactly as they looked when purchased.
In 2015, 360 large trees were bought and delivered at no cost to the purchaser. Smaller trees are included if they are part of a display.
Sometimes there are minor problems, but the people buying the trees are very understanding, Telford said.
"One lady, her tree had a section of lights that was out," Telford said. "We worked on it for two hours until the lady said, 'Oh, just turn it to the back!'"
Festival volunteers are trained to fix problems that sometimes occur and carry a tool box with them for emergency in case of breakage.
"We really do our best to minimize damage," Louder said. "It is a very challenging process. For me, it's kind of in my wheelhouse. It's just a fun puzzle to figure out."
The Festival of Trees is an annual event that was inspired 46 years ago by a group of 15 women who had been challenged to find a way to raise money for the hospital, according to the festival's history on its website at festivaloftreesutah.org. The first year, $47,000 was raised.
In 2015, more than $2.3 million was raised, according to the festival's website, with 100 percent of the money raised going to Primary Children's Hospital for care of children.
Visitors and fans of the festival in 2015 bought more than 800 trees, wreaths, decorated doors, gingerbread houses, playhouses, centerpieces, candy, baked goods, hot scones and sweet rolls, according to a news release.
According to a news release, families make a tradition of visiting the festival with more than 100,000 people attending the event each year. More than 30,000 volunteers are involved from decorating and donating trees to hosting the event and manning the booths for children's activities.
Primary Children’s Hospital cares for children of the Intermountain Region without regard to race, religion or the ability to pay, according to a news release from the organization. Last year, Primary Children’s spent over $11.6 million to cover 13,520 hospital visits by children in need.
If you go
What: Festival of Trees
When: Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Where: South Towne Expo Center, 9575 S. State, Sandy
How much: $6 for adults, $5 seniors, $3 for children; families of up to six people can receive admission for $18 on Wednesday, Nov. 30; discount tickets available at Zions Bank branches
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 35 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.