Festival of Trees kicks off holiday giving in Three Rivers


St. Anthony Retreat hosts tree auction benefitting small community’s non-profits

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

THREE RIVERS – The winding highway, tree-lined roads and rolling hills and river make the mountain community of Three Rivers a scenic place to call home for residents, businesses and non-profits alike. But while residents often commute to economic hubs down the hill and businesses capitalize on tourists coming up, opportunities for non-profits in the not-so-near community remained stagnant.

When Darlene Mayfield began working at St. Anthony’s Retreat several years ago, she wanted to create an event that would bring all of the non-profits together for a single fundraiser at a location where out-of-town donors could enjoy a night out, spend the night and support the cornucopia of non-profits that provide essential services to Three Rivers. It just so happened that she worked for that place.

“We have hundreds of non-profits in Three Rivers who have very little opportunity to do fund-raisers,” said Mayfield, director of marketing at St. Anthony’s Retreat, a 50-acre facility overlooking the Kaweah River canyon.

As the former home of Franciscans of California now owned by the Catholic Diocese of the Central Valley, St. Anthony’s mission villa was the perfect intersection of religion, scenic beauty and modern venue to host a one-of-a-kind tree auction in Tulare County and in November 2015 “The Festival of Trees” was born. In the last two years, the event has raised more than $50,000 for local charities in Three Rivers. This year’s event will be held on Thursday, Nov. 16. The theme of this year’s event is “The Story of the Candy Cane.”

“It is a production of the holiday spirit,” Mayfield said. “It is one of the best things to happen to Three Rivers in a long time.”

Mayfield brought the idea to Three Rivers after working on the Visalia Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Tree Auction for 23 years. During that time, she saw the event raise millions for local charities and community projects. The main difference between the events is that the trees in Three Rivers are just four to five feet tall.

“The guests have to take the trees home that night or the next day, so they need to fit on the car,” Mayfield said. “They make the check out directly to the non-profit so 100 percent of the proceeds go that organization immediately.”

Now in its third year, the event features trees from non-profits around the county, Valley and state. This year’s trees will benefit: AMVETS Dept. of Calif.; Riata Ranch; LOVE, Inc.; Epilepsy Foundation; St. Anthony’s Retreat Center; Dr. Davidsons Vet Fund; Embrace Central California; Lemon Cove Women’s Club; Three Rivers Lions; Three Rivers First Baptist; and Happy Trails Riding Academy. The tree auction is also a competition judged by local celebrities who will hand out trophies to the winners.

“Riata Ranch is bringing two of their girls to do trick roping in front of the tree,” Mayfield said. “We encourage organizations to do things to draw attention to their tree and make the auction even more entertaining.”

New this year is a “Kids Corner” that will display beautifully decorated and adorned Christmas wreaths created by local youth groups. On Wednesday, Nov. 15 there will be a free preview of the event for children and seniors to take their photo with Santa and get a tour of the conference center. Proceeds from donations for photos with Santa benefit the Three Rivers Bread Basket, the community’s food pantry.

The Festival of Trees opens its doors at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16 at St. Anthony’s Retreat, located at 43816 Sierra Dr. (Highway 198) in Three Rivers. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased at the door or by calling 559-561-4595. Proceeds from ticket sales benefit St. Anthony Retreat and Santa Teresita Youth Conference Center, a 25-acre, year-round youth camp.

Those who celebrate too much to drive home are encouraged to stay at St. Anthony’s for the night. Mayfield said 49 rooms are available at the retreat venue for $90 and includes breakfast. For more information, call 559-561-4595.

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