.

Thousands of twinkling lights, the smell of fresh North Carolina fir trees and homemade baked goods will greet guests as they enter the American Legion Building Saturday and Sunday for the 15th annual Festival of Trees.

More than 65 full-sized trees, each decorated with different themes and an additional 30 or more mini Christmas trees will take over the building, all in an effort to raise money for home health and hospice care through the Onslow Caregivers, Inc.

According to Jean Cole, event coordinator, the event’s longevity can be attributed to the community’s desire to help their neighbors through home care health and hospice support.

“All of us understand hospice and the need of it,” said Cole. “I think that home health and hospice care touches almost everyone’s family. You’ve had a grandmother, a great grandmother, a neighbor, a friend. It is something that is with every household. With every home. With every community. It’s always there.”

Cole has been with the Festival of Trees from the beginning. She said, “seeing the transformation of the American Legion Building in hopes of raising money for home health and hospice care, and the community’s reaction to that transformation, never gets old.”

“People are excited when they get in,” said Cole. “Where else do they walk in and see 100 decorated trees?”

According to Cole, each tree is sponsored by a local business, organization, church or school. They are given freedom to decide their theme.

Throughout the years, Cole has seen nearly 1,000 different trees and continues to be surprised each year with the creativity and beauty of the trees.

“We see the diversity of our community,” said Cole. “I am always surprised. It’s only one time a year but they put a lot into it and you appreciate it.”

According to Cole, her favorite trees are those decorated in honor of a family or community member.

From the Purple Heart Foundation decorating a tree with ornaments representing those community members who gave the ultimate sacrifice, to families remembering a loved one who lost a battle to an illness, for Cole they are the most touching trees each year.

“It goes to the heart of everyone when you look at these trees,” said Cole. “There are many ways to look at those trees but all of it was in celebration of that life, not sadness. I think that takes you back to hospice; everybody deserves just as good an ending to their lives as they did a

beginning.”

According to Cole, many of the groups donated their decorated tree to the silent auction to help raise additional funds for Onslow Caregivers, Inc.

Other silent auction items include: gift cards, handmade items and items from local businesses.

While the themes of the trees are one of the only things that has changed since the beginning of the event, according to Cole, the event is always exciting.

Live music entertainment will be provided both days, to include: patriotic, country and pop performances from soloists and groups.

The Coastal Carolina Artists & Crafts Guild will provide crafts.

A Sweet Shop will be selling all of the holiday fare.

“We enlarged the Sweet Shop this year,” said Cole. “We wanted to try and create some space for people to sit and enjoy their sweets. People have a sweet tooth especially during the holidays.”

A Festival of Trees wouldn’t be complete without Santa, who will be in the kids’ area.

“When you look around, you might not see it the same way each year. The spirit is there. You can smell live trees, apple cider and coffee. You smell the

sweetness, you hear the

music and hear children laughing in the background. You see people in groups walking around looking at silent auction items and the trees. When you walk in, you walk out of today’s world and into a magic place where there is entertainment, desserts and music.”

Admission is a $2 donation.

For more information, visit www.hospiceonslownc.org.