Festival of Trees

By Megan Wadding, December 2015 Issue.

For the seventh consecutive year, the the Greater Phoenix Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce will present Festival of Trees, an evening of  designer decorations and festive fundraising.

This annual holiday tradition, open to the entire community (ages 21 and older), will take place Dec. 4 at the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix.

“Bring your parents, grandparents, friends and anyone who loves the holiday season,” said Joseph Gesullo, Festival of Trees founder and co-chair. “This is not just an event for the LGBTQ community. Forty percent of people attending are allies of the community. “

The event will include a raffle drawing and silent auction of exquisitely designed trees, wreaths and menorahs, as well as food, music and a grand prize trip to Rome.

“This year we have approximately 20 trees and 15 to 20 wreaths and menorahs,” said Carl Hight, tree chair for the Festival of Trees. “The trees will vary in size and ornamentation as well as theme.”

According to Hight, some of this year’s decorative themes include Kinky Boots, Hanukkah, kitchen utensils, dogs and Broadway music.

Since the first Festival of Trees, which took place in 2008, the event has grown in participation and evolved into a night that serves as the LGBT community’s unofficial kickoff of the holiday season in the Valley.

“I wanted to create an event that the whole community could get behind, that was fun and festive and [that wasn’t] just for people with deep pockets,” Gesullo said.  “I wanted to be able to have a cocktail evening that everyone could dress up for and afford to go to – a glamorous [and] memorable event.”

According to Gesullo, when he came up with the idea, he had a dream that the event would one day be held at the Wrigley Mansion.

“We have had incredible venues the past six years, including the Herberger Theater and the Arizona Center,” Gesullo said. “But this year we are at the place this event was originally made for.”

The Wrigley Mansion, which was built in 1932 by chewing gum mogul William Wrigley Jr., sits on a hilltop overlooking the Arizona Biltmore, offering 360-degree views of the mountains and the city.

As guests arrive at the mansion the night of the event, Gesullo said, they will be greeted on the outside patio by the Phoenix Metropolitan Men’s Chorus, which will perform during check-in and photo ops.

Guests will then be escorted into the mansion – first, into the great room – where eight to 10 of the largest trees will be on display. From there, guests are invited to explore the other rooms, which will have the wreaths and menorahs on display.

“The trees have been donated and decorated by professional interior designers, florists and others in various design fields,” Gesullo said. “There will be trees, wreaths, menorahs and other auctions items in everyone’s price range.”

According to Gesullo, the night will kickoff with comments from Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton at 6 p.m. and will also include light appetizers and dessert. Additionally, there will be three bars available throughout the evening.

The evening culminates with a huge vacation raffle. This year, Gesullo shared, the big prize is a vacation package to Rome, which includes airfare, a seven-night hotel stay and tours of the Coliseum, as well as a designer travel tree valued at $2,000. Only 100 tickets – at $100 each – are being sold for the vacation raffle.

“[Festival of Trees] is important to the community,” said Deanna Jordan, GPGLCC chair, “it gives [us] an elegant chance to be seen and to donate to charity.”

Last year’s event raised more than $25,000 and, according to Gesullo, the goal is to raise at least the same amount this year.

Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit programs of two Phoenix-based organizations.

“The chamber will use the proceeds to help fund some of our outreach projects, like the Business Equality Index, which helps to access how open and inclusive businesses in Arizona are in the LGBTQ community,” Gesullo said. “The second beneficiary is one n ten. They will use their proceeds to fund the Y.E.S. Program, which helps youth prepare for careers in the workplace.”

Gesullo added that he expects the event to sell out again this year – hitting the 250 attendee mark. Tickets purchased before Dec.1 are $25, but will be $40 at the door.

“For that price, attendees will have a magical evening of food, music and views of the city that are priceless,” Gesullo said. “[They] will truly feel the holidays are upon them by the time the evening is over.”

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