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The concept behind Deck the Trees, the annual Christmas tree competition that benefits the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry fuel fund, has always been simple - bring the community together for the holidays and help someone in need.

This year, the event's sixth, was its most successful year by far, organizers said.

The 2016 Deck the Trees at The Monte Vista Hotel raised more than $12,000 for the fuel fund, which helps the ministry provide heat for families in need. All told, the event was expected to double the $6,300 raised in 2015, which had been the most raised by the event.

During this year’s competition, local businesses, groups and nonprofit organizations brought 32 trees to the Monte Vista’s lobby, dining room and garden room, said Sue Conlon, who owns the historic hotel with Barney Fitzpatrick. As they do every year, voters picked their favorite trees by leaving donations to SVCM in boxes by the trees.

The level of participation has come a long way from the first Deck the Trees in 2011.

“We had a fair number of participants (in 2011),” Conlon said. “But that year The Monte Vista, and by that I mean myself, had to decorate around five trees to fill the space.”

The first Deck the Trees raised about $1,000, according to Conlon. The money was divided among a few local charities, including SVCM.

“We were looking for community participation, but we really didn’t know where we were going with it,” she said.

Under the guidance of an ever-changing committee, Deck the Trees gained momentum each year, Conlon said.

“The last few years it had really just been myself, Libba Fairleigh and Danielle Lavery,” Conlon said. “We were doing OK, but like any event, it gets stale unless you get some new blood and new ideas.”

The committee approached Cheryl Wilson, in her first year as the ministry's director, and asked if the ministry would like to take on an increased role in the event.

“They are the experts at raising funds,” Conlon said. “So partnering with Cheryl and SVCM allowed us to tap into their network and the things they know.”

The partnership resulted in a larger committee for the event. One of the first ideas generated was to find sponsors. Platinum level sponsors, like Dr. Mark Kleive and an anonymous donor, gave $1,000. Tyson Furniture and Premier Sales & Marketing were gold sponsors with donations of $500 each. Krista Anne’s and Town and Country Furniture contributed $300 apiece.

“We had $3,800 to start,” Conlon said. “I was amazed, and this really validated our idea to bring in new people with new ideas.”

Another new idea was the Dec. 1 gala cocktail party. The 125 tickets for the black-tie event sold out in a week, according to Conlon.

The money raised by Deck the Trees will go to an important need in the community, according to Wilson.

“We have so many clients that come in with heating needs during the winter months,” she said. “A lot of that can be covered with funds we get through the government, but there are many that can’t be helped with those funds.”

The ministry spent about $46,000 to help with heating costs in the Swannanoa Valley last year, according to Wilson, so the $12,000 raised through Deck the Trees will help.

“That will help some of our elderly clients that need assistance, or families with children that come in and need assistance,” she said. “It’s just amazing, and that’s what this community does. Year-in and year-out, it responds to the needs of others in the community.”

For Conlon, who plans to continue the tradition of Deck the Trees well into the future, the charitable spirit of the Swannanoa Valley makes it a special place to live.

“I feel blessed here,” she said. “I’m just thrilled that with this event people had the opportunity to get together and do something together for the community.”

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