‘Trees of Hope’ for the holidays

Kristy Vandenberg has created hundreds of new “tiny trees” decorated for Christmas; and will be selling them Thursday-Saturday at Grape Juice, to benefit the area's Ultimate Gift of Life organization.

Kristy Vandenberg has an auxiliary Santa’s workshop at her home; and the resulting “tiny trees” are all being created for a good cause.

Vandenberg said she’s creating more “tiny trees” decorated for Christmas, for her annual fundraiser for the Ultimate Gift of Life organization.

This Thursday through Saturday, Nov. 18-20, she and some other “elves” will be setting up shop in the entry space at Grape Juice to sell her creations for $150 each and raise money to help those on the waiting list in Texas who need an organ transplant.

Her 2021 “Trees of Hope” fundraiser will be set up for the sixth year to raise funds for the work that Ultimate Gift of Life does to help those patients in need of transplants find a kidney or other necessary organ.

This is the only fundraiser for this nonprofit organization.

Area residents who ordered custom decorated trees ahead of time can pick up their finished tiny trees at the same event. And Vandenberg said last-minute shoppers can talk to her at Grape Juice this week if they want to place a “last-minute” order.

In addition to the sale of the tiny trees that Vandenberg personally decorates, she also is seeking area residents to be sponsors. She said they might not need or want another decorated Yule tree, but they make great gifts and monetary contributions also can help her cause.

Sponsorships can be $150 for the Trees of Hope Bronze level; $250 for the Silver level; $500 for the Gold level; and $1,000 for the Platinum level.

Each sponsor gives her a chosen theme or colors; and Vandenberg searches her large collection of decorations and lights – or goes shopping – to fulfill each request.

And all sponsors will be recognized in local media, on Facebook and on the website www.theultimategiftoflife.com.

The form offers the basic option of donating the money for a decorated tree in memory or honor of someone. And Vandenberg has been very busy in her home workshop filling those orders to be picked up Nov. 18-20.

Higher sponsorship levels will get one or more custom pre-lit and decorated tiny trees for their donations.

Checks should be made payable to “The Ultimate Gift of Life” and can be mailed to P.O. Box 295071, Kerrville, TX 78029.

Her hand-decorated “tiny trees” are 2 to 2.5 feet tall; and will brighten the look of any office, reception area or showroom.

“They are great trees for the buyers, and their support of organ donors,” she said.

“Each artificial tree is custom-made with lights and decorations. When Christmas is over, simply box them up and they will be ready to use next year.”

Vandenberg said these sizes of artificial Christmas trees are great for apartments, nursing homes, school dorms and dining rooms.

This year she’s created decorated trees with themes including the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, Tivy High School and Schreiner University, in addition to the more “Christmas-y” themes.”

“But those special trees are also more expensive because their themed ornaments are ‘licensed’ to be in the stores to sell; and they cost more.”

All the tiny trees she has created for sale at Grape Juice will be priced, for those shopping her colorful selection.

This year those also include a “farmhouse” theme, dogs, elves, Christmas cookies and polar bears. And she said they look best when lit up.

She’s made decorated trees for recreational vehicles or other sites that may or may not have extra electrical outlets, and can decorate tiny trees with battery-powered lights if needed.

There are between 100 and 150 lights on each tree.

“Most people just specify the colors they want and/or the height,” Vandenberg said. “One year, the James Avery company ordered a number of trees for Peterson Hospice patients. And there are no allergies; they’re not live trees.”

Preparation and crafting

Vandenberg has created a whole preparation, shopping and storage plan for this annual project.

“I go shopping at all the area after-Christmas sales to look for the trees and the ornaments and lights I can use the following Christmas. I’m notorious for backing up the check-out lines at Hobby Lobby – here locally now, but I used to drive to San Antonio to get to their sales. But I also go to Hometown Crafts, Tuesday Morning, Dollar Tree and Walmart.”

She said every year the popular things are different.

“Red or black pickup trucks with Christmas trees in the back are ‘in’ now. But this year there are hardly any small angels to fit my small trees. They’re mostly all too big.”

And each year the collection grew to take up half of her two-car garage.

Vandenberg, a longtime volunteer herself, said when she was trying to think of ways to raise funds for this organization, one of her first thoughts was, “not another golf tournament.” It’s an activity she’s supported and still does – but there already are several to choose from in the Kerrville area.

“And most people here are at the age where they don’t need a large Christmas tree and all the ornaments. So, I thought, not large trees. Lots of people are downsizing or just would like one for their business, or someone in a nursing home, or they live in apartments, not large homes.

“But organ donation is all about hope. So these are tiny trees of hope.”

She said, “If medical science could create a functional artificial kidney that works with people’s own DNA, the list of people waiting for a kidney could go from more than 10,000 people to less than 2,000. The list is so long now that it means a person waits four to six years to receive a deceased person’s kidney. If they find a living donor, it’s quicker.”

To help get people to be more pro-active, Vandenberg also works with another local volunteer, Kent Bressler, and with Donate Life Texas.

“In Texas, we have an unequal balance between Hispanics and Latinos who need kidneys compared to the overall population; and have the same imbalance for African Americans,” she said. “The big risk factors are diet in contrast to high blood pressure and stress.

“I’d love to work myself out of a job with this. But Texas has the largest percent of people waiting for a kidney in the U.S.”

She said, on the bright side, almost 70 percent of the Kerr County population is registered as possible donors.

“But my work is not done,” she said.

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