By BRITTANY FHOLER
The 21st annual Festival of Trees raised more than $100,000 for Wreaths for Vets and the Noble Giving Scholarship Fund Friday evening, with more than 1,000 people in attendance at the Killeen Civic and Conference Center.
The event featured 10 Christmas trees, decked out in various themes with an assortment of gifts worth more than $2,000 per tree, plus an auction tree that went for $11,000 that featured home décor, furniture, a stainless-steel French door refrigerator, a washer and dryer and more.
This year’s event was sold out, with more than 100 tables of 10 people. Event organizer Cindy Davis said that for the last 10 years, the Festival of Trees has sold out every year, with the exception of 2020 which had a lower cap on attendees due to COVID.
Guests purchased raffle tickets for $1 per ticket or $100 for a golden ticket for a chance to win 125 to 300 tickets. Guests then had the opportunity to add their raffle ticket to the bucket for each of the 10 raffle trees for a chance to win all of the presents underneath the tree plus the decorations on the tree.
The event is organized by Cindy Davis, Chuck Davis, Tony Mino and Susan Mino, according to Cindy Davis. The purpose of the Festival of Trees is to provide scholarships and funding for military programs.
One of the scholarship recipients this year is Travis Gilmore, who graduated from Burnet High School in 2020, after sustaining a head and neck injury (C4 to C6) that led to temporary paralysis of his lower extremities. He has gone through intense therapy for the past year. Gilmore was accepted into Texas A&M University and attended virtually for his freshman year. He plans to attend in person for his sophomore year in Fall 2022, and the scholarship funds will help make that possible.
His mother, Michelle Gilmore, said Travis is majoring in Construction Science.
“He always wanted to go to college, but now he’s like, ‘I am going to college, and I’m going in person. I’m not going with my parents,’” Michelle said.
Michelle said that typically the cost associated with a spinal cord injury is $1 million the first year out of pocket and $11,000 each year after that.
“It is a huge deal for Travis and for our family as far as thinking about the expenses,” Gilmore said. “It is going to be a huge help for us to be a recipient of this, so we’re very excited.”
The Gilmores currently live in Burnet, but they are from the Killeen area. Seeing all of the people supporting them was very heartwarming, Michelle said.
“I’m very excited to see all of our friends and family. We had lots of people travel in from out of town, and then plus people that are here in town to support us too,” Michelle said.
“It’s just a supportive community,” said Leslie Gilmore, Travis’ aunt. “One thing that we always we’ve said through this whole situation is that this community is like rallying behind Travis and his parents and sister, and it’s been a wonderful, wonderful way of feeling a lot of love from everybody.”
The other recipient of funds from this year’s Festival of Trees is Wreaths for Vets, which places a real, live wreath on the gravesite of every single veteran buried or interred at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Killeen.
Wreaths for Vets started in 2006, with founder and president Jean Shine purchasing 390 plus wreaths in Austin to lay on the graves of the veterans in the Veterans Cemetery in Killeen after seeing grave sites in need of wreaths for Christmas. The number of veterans buried there grew to 900 the following year, and so Shine started the Friends of the Central Texas Veterans Cemetery, which oversees the Wreaths for Vets.
“Every year it’s been 100 percent volunteers, working to make it happen for 12,500 soldiers and their family members this year, and 100 percent in donations and it is like a year-round work to make this happen,” Shine said.
They are working towards purchasing a 18-wheeler trailer to store the wreaths as they have run out of space. Shine said the organization has been struggling to find the type of trailer they’ve been looking for for around a year now.
“We’re hoping that funding from this will help us raise enough money that once we do find it, we can afford to buy it,” Shine said. “It makes a huge difference to us, and our organization could not make it without the donations for our Veterans Cemetery, and I know that we’re the most beloved cemetery in the entire state of Texas, and we want to keep this up. This project is for our military and family members for generations to come. So, it’s not just for today, it’s for the future. It’s also the teach our young people once they come out there to learn to honor and respect and remember our soldiers and our veterans who gave up so much so that they can live in a free country.”