The Greenville Convention Center is looking a lot like the North Pole these days as the Family Support Network of Eastern North Carolina has decked the halls for its annual Christmas fundraisers.
Santa and Mrs. Claus on Tuesday read to a groups of children then posed for photographs during a pair of Story Time with Santa activites, part of the annual Festival of Trees. On Saturday, the group held its Festival gala, and two more story time events are set for this Tuesday.
The proceeds from all of the events support the nonprofit’s mission to offer free resources and support to families dealing with premature, disabled, chronically ill children or those who have experienced the death of a child, work it has performed in the region since 1987.
“Above all else, we want people to know that anybody who calls us, we give them some kind of support,” said Kelly Phillips, the agency’s new executive director.
Phillips, who has previous experience with the organization and a background in family therapy, took the reins after Brenda Boberg retired from a 30-year career with the agency.
Phillips said Tuesday the transition has been smooth and that she wants the organization’s principles to stay at the forefront of all their events and messaging. FSN staples are still front and center, she said, namely the themes of listening, offering hope and empowering families.
The Festival of Trees is the group’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Families, organizations and businesses sponsor 70 unique Christmas trees on display at the Convention Center through Dec. 23 for donations of up to $500. FSN decorates some of the trees, but sponsors also decorate them for displays ranging from Karate Christmas to Mistletoe Magic. The Daily Reflector even had its own tree in a Christmas News theme.
The trees are located on different holiday-themed streets, such as Rudolph Road or Stocking Stuffer Street, around the perimeter of the convention center. Each tree has its own unique address so visitors can use a map to locate and admire the work throughout the month. The display is free and open to the public during business hours and events at the center.
Guest at Tuesday’s story time events and Saturday’s gala were able to admire the trees in addition taking part in other festive activites. The first story time Tuesday morning was held for an inclusive preschool for children with special needs. The second event was open to public registration.
A roomful of children and their families sang “Jingle Bells” before Santa and Mrs. Claus read “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” The Christmas couple was assisted by some volunteer elves who gave treat bags to all the children at the event.
The children were called up individually, or in groups if siblings were registered together, for a photo with Santa. Some children used the opportunity to give Santa their Christmas lists or explain how good they had been this year. Mrs. Claus gave each child a package of reindeer food after they posed for their photos.
The official event photos were donated to FSN courtesy of the husband and wife duo of Dewane and Pam Frutiger, founders of ASAP Photography. The pair have been involved with FSN for decades after Dewane began writing grants for the organization in its infancy.
“It’s nice to be able to help in some way, especially after all these years,” Frutiger said. “Seeing the kids enjoy themselves never gets old.”
The event brought some families out for their very first Festival of Trees. First time event attendee Fred Galloway brought his family and only had positive things to say about it.
“This was a very fun event,” Galloway said. “The kids really enjoyed it.”