Bring your love for the holidays and your pocketbook
by Benny Cartwright
Halloween is behind us and it’s already time to start thinking about Christmas and the other winter holidays ahead. And that means it is almost time for the Festival of Trees San Diego, which is scheduled for Sunday, Nov. 19 at insideOUT.
Now in its third year, the Festival of Trees was brought to San Diego in 2021 by a relative newcomer to town at the time, Bobby Gordon. Following in the footsteps of an event that Gordon hosted in his former town, Gordon was quickly able to assemble a team of community leaders here in San Diego who were enthusiastic about his idea for a live tree auction, something that had never been done before in the community.
Gordon, who many refer to as the “King of Christmas,” said that the genesis for the event really goes back to love of Christmas and the holidays as a kid.
“Growing up, I’d always been a fan of the holidays,” Gordon told LGBTQ San Diego County News. “It was the one time of year that I was allowed to be super creative and decorate pretty much however I wanted. There were years where we’d discover tinsel in a corner months later.”
Later in life, Gordon said that as a DJ and event host, he’s always gravitated toward disco balls, glitter, and everything “extra.”
“The holidays provide that perfect time of year for me to express myself in that way,” Gordon said.
He prioradded that prior to moving to San Diego about 5 years ago, he saw and participated in other non-profit fundraisers in other cities — including a “Festival of Trees” which can be found in many cities across the nation.
“After settling here and surviving the pandemic lockdown, I saw an opportunity to make a difference,” Gordon said. “I noticed that, after a few high-profile fall community fundraisers, our community was missing a holiday-themed event. So, combining my love of the holidays, my nickname as the ‘King of Christmas,’ and my non-profit fundraising and event background, that led to the first Festival of Trees San Diego in 2021.”
Gordon believes that the first event benefited from the perfect combination of having just come out of the pandemic and a gap in events, including the discontinuation of the popular holiday Wreath Auction that had been held for several years at the former Martinis Above Fourth.
“We nearly sold out the first year and raised just over $27,000 — where my goal was $5,000,” Gordon said. “The following year we raised $40,000 where we sold out the week before the event!”
For the third year in a row, the Festival of Trees will benefit Being Alive San Diego HIV/AIDS Services, which has provided a variety of end-to-end services for people living with HIV and AIDS since 1989. Gordon said Being Alive was chosen because “their impact in serving individuals and families afflicted with HIV/AIDS has a phenomenal and strong history.
“Being Alive has been a unanimous choice for our team the past three years,” he said.
What is the Festival of Trees?
Festival of Trees brings together a wide variety of community members and businesses to participate. Approximately 20 local bars and other businesses sign on to not only sponsor but build a very unique, over-the-top Christmas tree. Past trees have been decorated in themes like the Nightmare Before Christmas, A Palm Springs Gay Christmas, a Ho, Ho, Hoe tree, a Dia de los Muertos tree, a Mary Juana tree, and so much more. Sponsoring a tree gives the local businesses the opportunity to contribute while bringing their teams together to build something creative and beautiful.
The trees are displayed throughout insideOUT in the days leading up to the Festival of Trees, and on event day, attendees bid on their favorite trees and the winners get to take their pre-decorated tree home in time for the holiday season. In fact, winners don’t even have to worry about transporting their trees, as they are delivered directly to them the following day, Monday, Nov. 20, by professional moving company, Real Quality Movers.
Winners who prefer to just support the event but don’t necessarily want the tree have the option to donate to a family in need in the community to brighten their holidays.
The event also includes food, drinks, and a lot of fun led by hosts Kickxy Vixen Styles, Amber St. James, Moe Girton, and Gordon himself.
There is a travel raffle that includes a voucher worth $1500 travel credit and Southwest Airlines vouchers to use on an upcoming trip. Anyone can participate in the travel raffle, whether or not they attend the event, by purchasing raffle tickets here: festivaloftreessd.org/travel-raffle.
This year’s event will start with a special VIP ticket holder reception at 4 pm, with all attendees welcome at 5 pm. There will be three hours full of light charcuterie, drinks, and holiday revelry.
Guests will then be able to participate in several rounds of live auctions for trees. A few trees will be available for raffle ticket purchases, as well. There will also be a silent auction with some unique art pieces, tickets to local events, and other fun packages. erIn addition, there will be a 50/50 raffle, where the winner gets half of the money raised that night.
Gordon shared that the Festival of Trees is especially unique as it serves as a community kickoff to the holiday season, and is positioned right after a very busy series of fall events in the LGBTQ+ community.
“On top of that, our event will always support one of two objectives: HIV/AIDS health and wellness and/or LGBTQ+ suicide prevention in our local San Diego community,” Gordon said. “Probably the most unique aspect of Festival of Trees is that our nonprofit, BGCA, which stands sor Big Gay California, donates 100% of the proceeds to our chosen beneficiary. That translates to this — once we pay for the event-related expenses, we are able to maximize our donation to our beneficiary because of the generosity of the community and their commitment to providing discounted or in-kind donations.
“BGCA is 100% volunteer, without paid staff and without an office or much overhead to operate,” he added. “That places us in a unique position in the community to maximize our impact as a non-profit, private foundation.”
Sponsors like insideOUT, CopyCove, and the Coldwell Banker West Foundation have also served as pillars of the event all three years, said Gordon. “Without the generosity from them and our other sponsors and donors, we would not have had the impact on local HIV/AIDS resources that we’ve been able to enjoy.”
While insideOUT generously donates their beautiful space for the event each year, and often sponsor their own tree as well, the event is completely produced by Gordon, his foundation, and a team of volunteers.
Gordon is excited for this year’s event and is humbled by how quickly the San Diego LGBTQ+ and allied communities embraced and supported his “little” concept that has quickly turned from a hobby for him to a full-fledged nonprofit organization.
“That momentum has helped to make a difference in peoples’ lives the past 3 years for those who are battling HIV/AIDS-related challenges in their lives,” Gordon said.
Tickets can be purchased online at festivaloftreessd.org and are likely to sell out so those interested are encouraged to purchase them right away.
–Benny Cartwright is a longtime activist and community leader. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow him on Instagram @BennyC80.
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