News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 17, 2012

Christmas tree contest raises money for needy

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree. How will Vigo County students decorate thee?

The public can find out – and vote for their favorites – when trees from 24 schools are displayed in the Honey Creek Mall from Friday, Nov. 23, through Sunday, Nov. 25.

The Festival of Trees is a district-wide decorating contest to raise funds for the Shoe Bus and the Weekend Pack programs that help students in need.

“This is not just a fundraiser,” said event organizer Christy Ellis, art teacher at McLean High School. “We wanted to raise awareness in the community, and be a positive reinforcement to the students, and teach teamwork, and build excitement about the project.”

Each school decided on its own theme for its tree.

“They’ve all been unique and individual,” Ellis said. “I’m letting each school develop their own creative ideas.”

The trees will be set up at the mall in the coming week – with public display on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 23 to 25 – and the following week the trees will be returned to the creating school where the fundraising continues through Dec. 15. Voters can purchase tickets for 50 cents each to cast a vote for their favorite tree, or trees.

Scotia Brown, principal at McLean High School, said the school corporation set aside $7,000 for the weekend backpack program to start the school year.

“We blew through it in a few weeks,” Brown said of the need seen in the schools. At McLean, the cafeteria staff prepares the backpacks on Friday, based on the anonymous requests that students have submitted during the week.

“Some students pick up a pack to take home every week, some request one just a few times,” Brown said. “We don’t keep track of which students take one. There are no questions asked. We just know they need the help.”

About 54 percent of students in the Vigo County School Corporation are on the free and reduced lunch program. Many of those students and their families are also food insecure on the weekends, so the weekend backpack program offers food to students that they can eat on Saturday and Sunday. The backpacks contain items such as bread, peanut butter, crackers, jelly and toaster pastries that require little preparation by youngsters.

The other program benefitting is the Shoe Bus, which provides footwear and socks to children in need.

The trees will be on display in the area of J.C. Penney at the mall during those three days, and tickets will be sold so the public can cast votes for their favorite trees. Each ticket is 50 cents, and each tree will have its own secure box to receive tickets.

Donations will also be accepted at three areas in the mall where the voting tickets will be sold – outside J.C. Penney, Sears and the Santa station in the middle of the mall.

And after the trees have been returned to the schools, donations will still be accepted at the participating schools through Dec. 15. The tickets will then be counted and the results will be announced at the start of the next semester.

“If we reach $10,000 I will be happy,” Ellis said, “but if we reach $15,000 I will be even happier.”

And so will school administrators, who know that the need is there.

While in past years, some schools had their own self-contained weekend backpack program, the school district decided for this school year to provide funding and implement the program in all schools.

On Nov. 2, Superintendent Danny Tanoos sent out an email message to administrators with the message: “Today we will be sending home around 535 food backpacks.”

Ellis said she has been thankful for the positive feedback from the students, schools and community in support of the fundraiser.

Craft store business Jeffrey Alans donated the Christmas trees that will be used in the contest, and Honey Creek Mall is donating the space for the project.

“The students have been excited to create the ornaments and design the trees,” Principal Brown said. “It is important for students to realize the need to give back to the community.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at (812) 231-4254 or

Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.