Holiday trees decorated to dazzle are packed into two storefronts at Santa Maria Town Center East for a December giveaway that also includes up to $1,000 in merchandise, gift cards and cash per tree to benefit local charities and students. 

Two Altrusa Club foundations are raising funds to benefit nonprofit organizations and provide scholarships by giving away fully decorated artificial Christmas trees that come with a range of gifts provided by the tree sponsors.

On the lower level of the mall, Altrusa International of Golden Valley is presenting its Magical Christmas Trees, while on the upper level Altrusa International of Central Coast is staging its Festival of Trees.

Lompoc resident Melinda Aguirre, president of the Altrusa of Central Coast Foundation, explained how individual tree sponsors decorate the trees, usually with a specific theme, and provide gifts related to that theme.

“We have two Mickey Mouse trees, a Knott’s Berry Farm tree, and we even have a Switch tree,” Aguirre said, referring to the Nintendo Switch electronic games. “We have two that come with $1,000 in cash — the Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley tree and the Arrow Plumbing tree — and one with a big-screen TV.”

She added that the tree sponsored by the Ferini, McNulty and Roade families comes with a real apple tree in addition to $1,000 in gift cards plus.

For the Magical Christmas Trees, sponsors must provide a minimum of $350 worth of gifts, while at the Festival of Trees sponsors have an option of providing $500 or $1,000 worth of gifts to be given away with the trees.

The Mickey Mouse tree, for example, comes with two adult and two child tickets to Disneyland, while an ocean-themed tree comes with items you’d take to the beach.

Themes range from coffee and wine to auto repair, racing and appliances, reflecting the businesses and organizations that sponsor them.

“We have dentists and lawyers, and we have some every year, like Betteravia Farms and Kinyon Construction,” Aguirre said. “They’ve done one every year.”

Members of the public can purchase tickets at $1 each or $5 for six at either of the Altrusa locations, then place them in a box in front of the trees they would like to win in the drawings.

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The Magical Christmas Trees drawing is set for Saturday, Dec. 14, while the Festival of Trees drawing is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 15.

Ticket purchasers also can vote for their favorite trees, with the sponsors of the first-, second- and third-place winners receiving awards and bragging rights.

Aguirre said last year, Altrusa of Central Coast raised $62,000 from the Festival of Trees, of which the club kept $6,200, or 10%, to buy trees for next year’s event and cover other expenses.

But the remainder of the revenue goes directly to some 30 or so charities that apply for funding as well as youth scholarships.

“It all goes back into the community in grants,” she said. “So far, we’ve raised $850,000 since we started this in 2003.”

Altrusa of Golden Valley also provides grants to elementary and middle school teachers to spend in their classrooms.

Altrusa members say the assistance provided to the community are what drew them to Altrusa and the Christmas tree events.

John Moore, also a Lompoc resident who was helping out at the Festival of Trees, said he joined Altrusa after he walked into a previous event and struck up a conversation with Aguirre following his retirement from a 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force.

“I’ve always been very grateful for the support [from the community] throughout my career, and I always wanted to give back,” Moore explained. “Altrusa give me the opportunity to give back.”

Both the Magical Christmas Trees and Festival of Trees locations will be open during regular mall hours until the days of the drawings.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.