Text by Sue Burns | Photos provided by the Visalia Chamber of Commerce

December is almost here, and that means that the Visalia Chamber of Commerce’s annual Christmas Tree Auction is, too. The black-tie gala was created by the chamber 39 years ago to allow many local charities to raise money together at one event, rather than challenging the community to support competing events during the busy holiday season.

With beautiful-themed trees decorated by the nonprofits, a festive array of foods, silent auction items and dancing, the event has become a beloved annual tradition among guests and agencies alike. “People have a special place in their hearts for Christmas Tree — we get calls from all over the country asking for the blueprint for the event,” chamber CEO Gail Zurek said.

Since its inception, the auction has raised more than $4 million for community agencies that provide critical services throughout the year. Indeed, some of the agencies are able to meet their annual fundraising goals through the event.

This year’s gala is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, at the Visalia Convention Center and, in keeping with tradition, attendees will arrive dressed to the nines and ready to savor delicacies from local restaurants as they bid on decorated trees and silent auction items.

Several agencies are repeat participants (as many of the guests are). Each year, they submit applications to participate on a first-come, first-served basis. If more applications than openings are received, the chamber holds a lottery.  The organizations work with their respective boards and donors to determine a theme and secure one or two Christmas trees to decorate. (The themes do not need to match that of the event, which this year is “Putting on the Glitz.”).

Here are this year’s participants:

  • AmVets, El Diamante High School, Family Services of Tulare County, Hands in the Community, Kaweah Delta Hospice, Students International and Trinity Ministries Group are each providing a decorated large tree (as high as 8 feet).
  • Alzheimer’s Association of California Southland Chapter, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Service Center, ImagineU, Kaweah Delta Lifeline Foundation, My Father’s House, Visalia Music School, Visalia Police Explorer Post #32, Visalia Police Officers’ Foundation and Vision Visalia Foundation will each provide a decorated small tree (less than 4 feet).
  • Celebrate Recovery, Kaweah Delta Hospice, Love in the Name of Christ and Visalia Rescue Mission are providing both large and small trees.

In addition, each organization may contribute a maximum of two items for the silent auction. This year, there are 35 packages.

The 39th auction enters the technology age, with all bidding to be done online through BidPal. The auction will open on Bidding Tuesday (Dec. 3); anyone can bid from anywhere in the country, which means that folks who are not able to attend can still support their favorite charity. The public can preview the trees from 2-5 p.m. the day of the event, and now they will be able to bid on them if they wish.

Although the live auction for the trees will be online, an auctioneer will be at the event to publicize each tree and keep guests involved and updated on the bidding. Both auctions will close at the same time; winners will be notified immediately. Christmas trees will be delivered to winners the day after the auction, so there’s no need to worry about fitting that 8-foot decorated tree into the back of a sports car.

Amanda Arreola, events and marketing coordinator, works with a committee of chamber members to pull the event together. Chair Barbara Mayeda, who has been involved with the auction for 30 years, has seen the event evolve. Joining her in the planning and execution are Brett Taylor, David Lemon, Barbara Strong, Melissa Neely, Marina Rojas and Samantha Mendoza, and chamber representative Sue Summers.

VIP guests will have access to hors d’oeuvres provided by the Marriott Hotel. Each charity is responsible for securing a caterer to donate appetizers or dessert to be served at their tree during the event for guests to enjoy. This year’s local restaurants participating include Black Bear Diner, Chapala Grill, Elderwood, Javi’s Taco Shack, Koetsier Ranch Catering, Lamp Liter Inn, Mache, Maverick’s Coffee, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Quality Meats, Quesadilla Gorilla, Ryan’s Place, Tahoe Joe’s, the River Steakhouse, the Vintage Press, Valhalla’s and Wyndham Visalia’s Café California.*

Also new at the auction this year will be a performance by the jazz quartet from the Sequoia Symphony Orchestra.

It’s sure to be an evening that sparkles with the spirit of the season and the joy of supporting the agencies that support our community. For more information to sponsor or purchase tickets, visit visaliachamber.org/christmastree.

*Listings are current as of publication date.