Alabama State alumni volunteer for Festival of Trees

Nov. 23, 2013 @ 11:24 PM

The main hall of the Mills Conference Center in Gatlinburg slowly filled with trees. Some were stiff, fresh from storage. Others were decorated, glowing with a variety of lights. Christmas tunes played quietly.

The Gatlinburg Festival of Trees, a charity event hosted by the Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministry, is preparing a full display of Christmas trees for onlookers to enjoy. On Friday afternoon, organizers got help from 27 alumni of Alabama State University, members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. They volunteered as part of celebrating the 10 year anniversary of becoming pledge sisters.

Cindy Black of SMARM gathered the women in the front of the hall, pointing to donated coats that were brought for Winter Coat Day. She walked the group through a short history of the Festival of Trees and SMARM, and thanked the volunteers for donating their time.

"We appreciate this," Black said. "I'm really glad you all are here."

Black gave instructions on tasks for volunteers: fluffing trees, making sure the lights are working properly setting up the "snow tunnel."

Volunteers said they were excited to reunite and to do something positive together for their anniversary.

"Gatlinburg is the heart of the country," Randi Revill said as she untangled a bundle of lights. "After graduation, eveyone sort of scattered. It's a good central location to meet up, and it's incredibly beautiful."

Tanya Tidmore and Adrienne Brown held a strand of lights together, stretching it around a tree. They said they enjoy Gatlinburg, and that they could see bringing their families here to vacation.

"It's been a great chance to catch up with everybody," Tidmore said. "We're linked on Facebook and social media, but it's difficult to keep up."

"It's great to be face-to-face," Brown added.

The event raises money from companies who buy sponsorships for trees at the event. Companies can choose to either decorate trees themselves or have them decorated.

"Everything stays in Sevier County," Black said. "The money we raise is used for this community, and that's important to us."

SMARM will deliver coats to those in need on Dec. 14 as part of Winter Coat Day. For more information about the organization and opportunities to help out, visit www.smarm.org.