Written by: Hayley Swinson | Photography by: Lower Cape Fear Hospice
When house-hunting for a respectable, established neighborhood, the location of the Lower Cape Fear Hospice Foundation is ideal. Tucked away off 17th Street, as if in its own suburb, the Wilmington campus is surrounded by full, large trees and landscaping that is the product of decades of growth. You can hear birds and crickets chirping, and the thick woods on the edge of the property make you feel as if you’re in the country. Next to the hospice care building, established in the 1980s, sits a garden with a meandering path, and the faint sound of running water. This project, the Children’s Memorial Garden, was recently funded by donations from ordinary people and businesses.
Inside the corporate headquarters located next door, the atmosphere is hushed and respectful. These are people who are accustomed to helping individuals navigate the most delicate and difficult times of their lives: end of life care for a loved one. “Hospice is like a hundred loving arms coming into your house to help you care for your loved one,” says David Howell, a Development Manager for the Lower Cape Fear Hospice Foundation. The Foundation, which serves six counties in North Carolina and three in South Carolina, is a nonprofit organization and relies on donations to keep its doors open. Patients are admitted regardless of ability to pay; an option referred to as charity care. “Our mission is to be able to provide hospice services to all—whether they can pay or not,” says Veronica Godwin, a Development Manager with the Foundation.
The Festival of Trees is one of the Lower Cape Fear Hospice Foundation’s biggest fundraising events. It started early on in the Foundation’s history, growing consistently and featuring dozens of trees at the Hilton downtown. Somewhere along the line the festival was put on hold—until about five years ago. A woman who had been positively affected by the Foundation’s care decided to bring the festival back. That year it was completely volunteer-run. Due to an overwhelmingly positive response, the next year the Foundation decided to fully restore the Festival. After a year or two at the Cameron Art Museum, the Festival then moved to its current home at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
“The aquarium provides a deeper coastal contrast,” says Howell. He paints a picture of the trees, a maximum of fifty, each with its unique style of decor, embedded among the coastal artifacts of the aquarium. “There will be everything from hand-made decorations to designer,” Howell explains. Most trees are sponsored by businesses, such as Andrew’s Mortuary, Bob King GM, Carolina Transport in Burgaw, and is presented by First Citizens. Each business believes in the Foundation’s mission, and the Festival of Trees’ family-friendly atmosphere; a different feel from the galas held throughout the remaining year.
In addition to business donors, some individuals sponsor trees as a token of love for those they have lost. Many, have received care at Lower Cape Fear Hospice, but the Foundation does not stop at its patients. To show such appreciation, Gwen Whitley, the Lower Cape Fear Hospice Foundation’s CEO, is sponsoring a tree in honor of the employees.
It has become a tradition with the Festival to offer a memorial tree, or Angel Tree. Allowing people to write memories, or the names of loved ones who have passed away, and clip them to the branches of a fir tree. Last year, Howell says, the branches were loaded with notes leaving barely enough room for each message of inspiration, memory, or name of a loved-one to fit. This year, he says, they’ll be adding a second Angel Tree, a fitting representation of their foundational message: a hundred loving arms, friends who understand.
Interested in sponsoring a tree? There may be sponsorships available. Contact Mary.Fountain@lcfh.org for more information. Decorating will begin on November 15.