SPRINGFIELD (MassLive) – Every year David Ryan and his wife Beth Ryan trim a Christmas tree with gas cards and other discounts and this year they stuffed an emergency repair kit, a shovel, a gas can and a teddy bear under it.
The L.E. Belcher “gas card tree” is one that people look out for every year during the Festival of Trees. The decorations – this year a giant top hat crowns the tree – change but the about $1,200 worth of gas cards and other benefits that decorate the branches stay the same, said David Ryan, vice president of the Springfield company which sells heating oil, gasoline and diesel fuel.
“It is a great way to support the community,” Ryan said, adding many of the companies who work with him, such as Shell, Irving and Citgo, help out by providing the gift cards.
The tree was one of 137 unveiled this year during the preview of the 15th Festival of Trees on Sunday. Supporters of the club were invited to check out the trees before the official opening this year on Nov. 27 on the second floor of Tower Square.
Supporters of the club, including individuals, businesses and service organizations, every year decorate a Christmas tree. Then for the next few weeks the public is invited in to tour the trees and can bid on their favorites by placing raffle tickets in a box next to the trees they like best, said Sarah Tsitso, executive director of the Springfield Boys and Girls Club.
On Dec. 13, the event will end with the drawing of the names of the winners. The next day the victors return to pack up their tree with all the decorations on it and gifts under it.
“This is our biggest fundraiser, both in time and money,” she said. It takes dozens of volunteers to man the area, sell tickets and provide entertainment for more than two weeks.
By charging $5 admission for adults and $10 for a sheet of 25 raffle tickets, the Boys and Girls Club earns about $115,000 for the event. That money goes into the general fund and pays for swim lessons, music lessons, homework help, sports and career programs for more than 1,500 children who find it a safe haven after school, she said.
The club, located on Carew Street, operates on a $1.4 million budget and most of that money comes from donations so money raised from the Festival of Trees is a vital part of its budget, she said.
Themes varied dramatically with one looking like a Dr. Seuss village, a car dealership filled out its decorations with toy cars, and a toddler push car and a tree decorated by Falcetti Music was trimmed with drum sticks, a guitar, a tambourine, a kazoo and four free lessons for any one of the instruments.
Lenox Saw employees, in East Longmeadow, ignored the traditional and turned a ladder into a tree by decorating it with greenery and lights. They included a trunk of classic toys with the display.
“We do it every year and it is one of our favorite events for community service,” said Michelle Duga, compliance officer for Polish National Credit Union in Chicopee.
This year employees formed a committee and decided to follow a gingerbread theme. All the decorations, including several wooden gingerbread houses and the tree ornaments, were handmade. Surrounding the tree were more than a half-dozen gift baskets, she said.
“We have a lot of creative people working with us,” she said, giving Chicopee Branch Manager Tammy Noonan credit for coming up with many of the ideas.
St. John’s Congregational Church in Springfield donated two trees this year, one from the general congregation and a second from its Mom’s on a Mission group, which is dedicated to helping children, said Montenia Shider, voice coach for the church.
The church youth choir will also volunteer during the event by entertaining guests with their singing, she said.
In keeping with its plans to convert the Bizarro roller coaster into the Superman Coaster, Six Flags New England employees decided to decorate their tree with a Superman theme, said Jennifer McGrath, communications manager for the Agawam theme park.
“The young boys I talked to were so excited to see a superhero themed tree,” she said.
Along with the red and blue ornaments, the tree was decorated with a variety of movie DVDs, a Superman LEGO set and a collectors’ edition of multiple superhero figures.