OGDEN -- The season of giving extends well beyond Christmas thanks to funds raised by the Weber School Foundation's annual Christmas Tree Jubilee at the Ogden Eccles Conference Center.
Proceeds from the sale and auction of donated, fully decorated Christmas trees, wreaths and even gingerbread houses, go toward helping teachers and buying equipment for special-needs children throughout the school year.
"The Christmas Tree Jubilee has been going on over 30 years," said Chris Zimmerman, executive director of the Weber School Foundation. "It started ... with a group of parents from a PTA decorating some trees and selling them to help buy a wheelchair for a little boy. All the money from the purchase of trees is put into an account with the Weber School Foundation, and that money is used throughout the year to buy things for children with special needs."
Each year families, school groups, church groups, government agencies and businesses sign up to donate and/or decorate a tree for the event. With more than 100 trees donated, Zimmerman said the combined sales from Tuesday's exclusive Gala Dinner and Wednesday and today's public sales in the Ogden Eccles Conference Center, should net the foundation approximately $300,000.
"We sold 51 trees Tuesday night during the gala dinner," Zimmerman said Wednesday. "We're hoping to sell another 50 today and Friday. We need the community to come down and buy our trees. They'll have a beautifully decorated tree in their house, and all the money will go to special-needs children."
Funds will be used to pay for such things as wheelchairs, bath chairs, hearing aids, iPads, field trips, and even bikes and skateboards.
"Basically, anything that will help a child with special needs function better at home, so that they can be more successful in their lives," Zimmerman said. "We want them to feel like any other kid. So we're going to buy little Jaylee Dutcher a wheelchair that's specially made for skateboarding, because she likes to go to skateboard parks. We bought wheelchairs for basketball for our children that wanted to do that. Any way we can help a child feel like they're just like any other kid, that's what we want to buy; bicycles, tricycles, we buy 'em."
Janice Hill, a life skills teacher at Green Acres Elementary School, said the Christmas Tree Jubilee is her charity of choice, because all the money goes back to the children, and she has seen firsthand the impact it can have.
"I've just seen all kinds of things for my students. Things that have been purchased that have made such a difference in their lives," Hill said. "It makes it easier to care for them at home, and it helps them do things that every kid gets to do -- like ride a bike. I've had a student who has received a bike, and he can ride bikes with his family now. He could never do that before. The foundation also helps a lot with our classrooms, in getting things that we might need."
The conference center was packed Wednesday afternoon with people tree-gazing, buying raffle tickets for gift baskets, getting free photos taken at a Tap Snap photo booth and listening to choirs from local elementary schools and music studios.
"It's such a great cause, and I'm a teacher for Weber School District," said Denise Lefevre after buying her first Jubilee Christmas tree. "It's such an amazing event and just gets you in the Christmas spirit."
The Christmas Tree Jubilee runs until 8 p.m. today. Those interested in donating or decorating a tree for next year's event should call the Weber School Foundation at 801-476-7896 or visit the website: foundation.wsd.net or wsdjubilee.com.