BRADENTON -- The tallest tree on site stands nearly 13 foot tall, took six men to unload from the truck and will retail for about $300.
It's one of about 800 trees on sale to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County.
The 61st annual Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County Christmas Tree lot opens Friday next to Publix at Westgate Shopping Center on Manatee Avenue West in Bradenton. It's the second-largest fundraiser for the organization and brings in about $40,000 annually, President Dawn Stanhope said.
"It's been a long-standing tradition," Stanhope said Thursday as the first trees were unloaded. "We always sell out."
The 800 Fraser firs range from $40 up to the $300 mammoth tree. The organization also sells wreaths.
The Boys & Girls Clubs purchases trees from a farm in North Carolina and ships them to Bradenton in two batches. The first 500 trees include some kept in refrigerated trucks to stay fresh until there's room on the lot.
The fundraiser is usually such a success because buyers feel a strong connection to the clubs, he said.
"It's really tied to the purpose of giving," Stanhope said. "People feel this fundraiser is special to them."
This year, the organization is adding a new twist to make a stronger connection between buyers and those who benefit from the sales.
The clubs will host at Tree-Mendous Christmas Celebration at the tree lot with WLTQ 92.1 The Coast from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 5 with barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers, refreshments, raffles, prizes and music. Raffle tickets are available at the tree lot and at each of the clubs after Thanksgiving. The grand prize is a hover board.
"It's the most popular gift ever for kids over 12," Stanhope said.
Stanhope said she hopes the celebration helps cement the sense of belonging to the organization.
Proceeds will help support afterschool and summer programs for 4,100 children through two traditional clubs and five school-based clubs. The money will help buy materials, supplies and provide scholarships. The club tries to keep monthly rates for children and families between $25 and $40 a month, but for some families, even that amount can be tough, Stanhope said. The fundraiser helps eliminate the financial barrier for families.
Club fundraisers include the annual Youth of the Year event, which is the biggest, but Stanhope said the Christmas tree lot is worth it, too.
"There's just nothing that replaces it," she said.
The lot, which opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. Friday, is open until Dec. 17. Regular hours are:
Noon to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
Noon to 9 p.m. Fridays, other than the first Friday.
9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays.
9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays.
Volunteers needed to help staff the lot can call Dana Cutalo at 941-761-2582 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The volunteers help us out tremendously," Stanhope said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.