By JOHN GORALSKI
If you arrive at the Aqua Turf on Tuesday, Nov. 12 expecting to find a forest of Christmas trees, you may be in for a surprise. This year, the United Way of Southington festival of trees fundraiser has a new name, a new look, and a new spirit.
Beginning this year, the fundraiser will be known as the festival of wreaths. Purchasing decorated wreaths—not trees—will be the main focus on the fundraiser, but that’s just the beginning.
“This event has been growing since I’ve been here,” said United Way of Southington executive director Jack Eisenmann. “We’re changing the format a little bit. We’re only going to have wreaths—no trees—and we’re also going to add a cookie-dessert chef there to prepare holiday meals, drinks, and desserts. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The event is the second largest fundraiser of the year for the United Way of Southington, and money raised will help support the organization’s local causes throughout the year. For locals, it’s sort of the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season, and this year’s event is going to have even more to offer shoppers with holiday cooking and mixology demonstrations, artisan displays, food stations, a cash bar, and—of course—the wreaths.
“It’s going to be a little more interactive, instead of just coming, eating, and bidding on the wreaths,” said Eisenmann. “We know that Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and that’s the start of the Christmas season. We try to give people a little jump on that.”
The event typically draws about 100 people, but officials are looking to double the attendance. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased by contacting Cheryl Lounsbury at (860) 919-4237 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Wreath donations are still being accepted by contacting Lounsbury or any United Way board member.
“It’s a fantastic event, and there’s a lot of energy,” said Eisenmann.
The change in the festival of wreaths coincides with a shift in the whole organization as they try to raise the bar and grow. The United Way of Southington’s annual campaign kick-off breakfast on Sept. 12 drew so many people to the Manor Inn that they had to expand the room to accommodate the crowd. The event slogan was, “Help us spread the word about Southington’s best kept secret.”
“We’re trying to raise about $200,000,” said Eisenmann. “We’ve been able to reach $100,000 to $150,000 on a regular basis, but we’re looking to pick that up. We’re looking to do it through our events and with our employee campaigns. But we’re also looking to pick it up with our mailing campaign for individual donations from people and businesses.”
The money raised through the festival of wreaths, the annual campaign, and through grants from the Bradley Henry Barnes and Leila Upson Barnes Memorial Trust at the Main Street Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, helps fund 16 Southington agencies in Southington.
“All of the money we collect is used for Southington people and Southington programs,” said Eisenmann. “One of the reasons that we can do that is because we’re probably one of the smallest United Ways anywhere. Because of that, we can adapt. We can adjust. We can find new funding sources and find new programs.”
One program that’s grown recently is the partnership with Senior Transportation Services, Inc.. The United Way helps to fund the program, but they also help recruit volunteer drivers to assist local residents in getting to medical appointments, care facilities, pharmacy visits, banks, and more. To learn more, visit www.seniorrides.org.
“As you know, there is currently no bus service in Southington, but we’ve been able to improve our ride program,” said Eisenmann. “It used to service about 100 people each year, but now we’re up over 1,000 people each year. We have 35 drivers, and we’re looking for about another 35 drivers. If we do, the sky is the limit.”
With all of these changes and all of the growth, the organization needs more space. Soon, they’ll be moving from behind a desk inside the chamber of commerce to a new home in the center of town.
“We’re very grateful for the Southington Chamber of Commerce. They’ve been so good to us and have worked so closely with us. We’ve been associated with them for a number of years, and that will continue,” said Eisenmann. “If we have all of these lofty goals that we’ve set for ourselves, we have to have our own identity.”
If the trend continues, Southington’s “best kept secret” will no longer be a secret.
To learn more, contact www.unitedwayofsouthington.org.