The three-day Holiday House of H.O.P.E. was a huge success this year in raising money for the Beacon of H.O.P.E. organization, along with attracting nearly 1,000 people to the entire event.
"I don't have an exact total yet but the table top trees brought in over $7,000," Elsie Stearns said. "That's double what we did last year and there's no doubt we had our best year ever since we started four years ago."
For the third year, the setting was at Tarpon Lodge, beautifully decorated with lights, Christmas trees and, of course, a visit by Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who arrived by boat. "There were a number of people that worked on the decorations," Rob Wells, general manager of Tarpon Lodge, said. "Sometimes we get the credit but it is the volunteers at the Beacon of HO.P.E. that do all of the decorating and the property looked great - they do a great job every year. We also opened all the rooms again this year so the vendors could decorate them. Each vendor splits the proceeds with 50 percent going to the Beacon of H.O.P.E."
Santa and Mrs. Claus pose for a photo during the festivities with a couple of island youngsters.
This is the second year that table top trees were auctioned. Table top trees start off as undecorated miniature Christmas trees that are purchased and decorated by local businesses. Each business decorates their tree, creating 22 unique trees. The trees are then auctioned off to the highest bidder. There were 22 miniature Christmas trees this year.
"It's just amazing to me that when the businesses take these little trees that are basically a blank slate," Stearns said. "They come back with these creatively decorated, absolutely beautiful trees."
The tree that brought in the most money was from Little Lilly's Island Deli with a donation of $1,220! The second place tree was from Center of Attention Day Spa with a donation of $1,015. Local artist Mel Meo's tree was third with a donation of $731 and the Bobby Holloway tree brought in a donation of $695.
"The table top trees outdid themselves this year," Stearns said. "They more than doubled what we did last year. They were absolutely beautiful, Little Lilly's had gift certificates, Center of Attention was a gorgeous sleigh. All of the trees were winners."
The 6-foot "artist's tree" was decorated with Christmas balls decorated by local artists. The winning bid for that tree was $950.
"This has been a great thing for us," Wells said. "It's wonderful how the community has embraced this event. We have been really fortunate to have this opportunity to help an island charity."
"The Holiday House of H.O.P.E. has quickly become a tradition here on Pine Island," Stearns said. "And there just isn't a more beautiful place on the island to celebrate Christmas than Tarpon Lodge. This was only possible with the help of the Wells family."