Hospice Festival of Trees shares many stories

The concourse of Stanly Commons will be a showcase of Christmas tree art for the remainder of December as Hospice of Stanly conducts its annual “Festival of Trees” event.

The festival, which serves as a fundraiser for the organization, showcases trees which are sponsored and decorated by area organizations and volunteers.

“There are 45 trees sponsored by community organizations, plus nine ‘angel trees,’ ” said Shields Howard, Hospice’s development and marketing manager, in describing the event. “Most are 7½ feet tall, but this year we have added some larger (9 feet) ones, as a point of interest.”
The “angel trees,” which are decorated with white angels that are hand-made by Hospice volunteers, offer those who have lost friends or loved ones an opportunity to commemorate them by purchasing one of the angels, which is adorned with the name of the honoree and displayed on the trees during the festival.

“The angels are made by a core group of 12 volunteers beginning in July of each year,” said Howard. “This year, the team has made 1,000 angels, and some are still available.”

Harold Thompson of Norwood chose to honor the memory of his wife Nellie (who passed in late 2020) by sponsoring a tree with multiple angels.

“I called Hospice and asked about the number of angels it would take to decorate an entire tree,” he said, “and ended up not only sponsoring a tree in memory of Nellie, but also two others in memory of my father (Henry), and brothers (Tommy and Buster).”

Thompson’s support of Hospice stems in no small measure from the support he and his family received in the aftermath of Nellie’s death, primarily from grief counselor Janna Spurr. He was highly complimentary of Spurr’s compassion and dedication in helping him through the grieving process.

“We met regularly for 13 months after Nellie passed,” he said, “and I wouldn’t be here right now without her encouragement and support. What Hospice does is worth its weight in gold.”

In addition to the angel trees, numerous others are decorated in various themes by local businesses, individuals and families, many of whom sponsor every year, said Howard.

A particularly unique example of a themed tree is one sponsored by Stanly Funeral Home, which was decorated in memory of Rebecca (Becky) Haire, a former employee. The tree, in addition to sewing-related decorations, features a vintage Singer sewing machine displayed at the base of the tree to commemorate Haire’s talents and lifelong hobby.

“Becky was our bookkeeper here for over 50 years,” said Stephen Aldridge, president of Stanly Funeral Home, “and was our longest serving staff member before she passed in late 2021.”

“She loved to sew, and was also a member of the local quilters’ guild,” he added, “and we wanted to honor her in a way that reflected her life, so we consulted with Sherry Stauch, who helps us here at the funeral home with decorating, and she was able to develop the theme for the tree.”

The Festival of Trees is only one of a number of events designed to raise funds and awareness of the Hospice mission in the community.

“Hospice exists to provide patients and their families with compassionate care, enabling them to embrace the end of life with dignity, courage and peace, and Hospice could not do this without its 55 dedicated volunteers,” said Howard, who noted Hospice volunteers serve in areas ranging from direct patient care to construction.

“Our direct patient care volunteers provide assistance and companionship through reading, visiting and regularly making contact with patients,” she said, adding that, “another group is active in crocheting items for patients, such as prayer shawls and lap blankets.”

Although much of the Hospice mission involves patient contact, there are volunteer opportunities for those who are not comfortable in such roles, Howard added.

“We have a group of men who install wheelchair ramps, at no cost to the patient, at their homes,” she said. “And other volunteers assist with our events over the course of the year, such as our golf tournament, our camp for families, and our ‘light the lake’ event.”

Pat Mills, who has volunteered for Hospice for the past 26 years, describes the opportunity to do so as a blessing.

“Where do I start?” she replied upon being asked what volunteering means to her.

“This whole organization has meant so much to me,” said Mills, “but has become more precious than ever in the last few years.”

“It’s my happy place,” she added.

The festival is on display 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday at Stanly Commons.

Interested in volunteering for Hospice? Call 704-983-4216.